After catching COVID twice, doc shields behind vaccine

Medical practitioner at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), Dr Je-Vaughn Wynter, was hit by COVID-19 twice as he worked on the front line.

He cannot imagine what a third infection would be like, but to reduce his chances of becoming seriously ill if he were to contract COVID-19 again, he took the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week.

Jamaica’s evolving roll-out of the vaccine coincides with an unprecedented wave of infections that has caused hospitals to buckle. The country’s coronavirus cases topped 32,700 on Tuesday, with a one-day record 13 deaths being registered. The island has crossed the emotional milestone of 500 COVID-19 deaths.

Wynter admitted that he has lost count of the number of COVID-19 positive patients he has managed since he began working as a medical officer in internal medicine last July.

Following successive days of managing COVID-19 patients, medical staff are required to do swabbing on the seventh and 14th day, out of an abundance of caution.

“When I first tested positive for COVID, I was surprised but at the same not all that surprised as I was exhibiting suspicious symptoms,” he recalled.

Wynter tested positive in September 2020 and a second time six months later.

A few of his colleagues were also infected twice.

The Kingston College alumnus highlighted that the first time he contracted the virus, he was absolutely paranoid.

“One of the most frustrating things about having the virus, other than the symptoms, were the uncertainties that plagued my mind. Periods of anxiety and recurrent panic attacks left me wondering if the symptoms were worsening or if it was just the manifestations of the panic attack,” he recalled.

With the second bout of COVID-19, he had more symptoms, but they were milder.

During the 14-day isolation, he wondered at times whether he would develop long-term complications.

Immediately after his recoveries, Wynter was back on the front line.

The medical officer was asked by many people what gave him the courage to return.

His response: “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the ability to take action despite your fears.”

He reasoned that patients have to be seen, and he has the ability to help save a life, especially in a time when all hands are needed on deck.

His approach resonates with the motto of his alma mater, ‘The brave may fall but never yield’.

The 26-year-old, who has been in the profession for three years, noted that the stresses of the pandemic have affected his personal and professional life.

Wynter believes that it is paramount to strike a balance between work and leisure, but the pandemic made time for destressing very sparse, even as he suffered fatigue.

He sanitises his belongings before heading home from the hospital, wears a mask, and practises social distance when visiting family, especially the vulnerable.

“Professionally, this pandemic has shown us how much healthcare is in need of radical change. It highlighted the deficiencies in our health system,” he told The Gleaner.

When he learnt that the vaccine would soon be available in Jamaica, he was slightly euphoric but had a bit of reservation.

“There was that intrapersonal discussion where I wondered if I may be that unlucky person who faces acute post-vaccination side effects that would be possibly detrimental,” he recounted.

The day prior to his vaccine appointment, news emerged about countries suspending the use of the AstraZeneca shot over blood clot fears.

He delved into independent reading and came to the decision that he would take the jab. European health ministries have since declared that there is no link between the blood clots and the vaccine.

For Wynter, the vaccine marks a significant step forward and a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Everyone would like to see the end of the nightmare that is COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that we have been dealing with this virus for over a year, with many aspects of our lives upended,” he said.

As a professional who has seen the crisis unfold before his eyes, he urged Jamaicans to take personal responsibility.

“Face masks and social distancing will need to continue in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, being vaccinated doesn’t instantly mean we can go back to how life once was.

“Think about the vaccines as just another means of protection against COVID-19 until we have some level of herd immunity,” he remarked.