SGU Vets Rank High in VIRMP Match 

With their degrees in hand, St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine graduates are set to take on even more specialized training beginning in the spring. Forty-nine SGU-trained veterinarians will continue their careers in internship and residency positions according to 2021 match data from the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program (VIRMP). 

SGU students and grads achieved a match rate of 72.1 percent, the highest among Caribbean veterinary schools. It also compares favorably to the 53.5 percent match rate for all schools—including US schools—according to the VIRMP, a program sponsored by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians (AAVC). 

“We couldn’t be happier for those who have decided to further strengthen their knowledge and skills through these postgraduate training opportunities,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the SVM. “These programs are welcoming excellent veterinarians who are committed not only to providing quality care for their patients, but to continuing to learn and grow as professionals.” 

Beginning in June, the newly matched graduates will continue their training in fields such as diagnostic imaging, oncology, emergency medicine, and neurology/neurosurgeryamong others. These positions are situated at such prestigious institutions as Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other universities within the SVM’s network of clinical affiliates.  

– Brett Mauser

3 SGU grads changing the face of veterinary medicine

Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian Americans have been historically underrepresented in the veterinary profession. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these minority populations make up less than 13 percent of the 83,000 veterinarians in the US.

Aspiring vets, especially minorities, want to be able to see themselves in the profession through the faces of those who are already working in it. A lack of diversity in the profession also impacts the animals and pets being cared for. Many people from low-income areas may not have access to or can’t afford pet healthcare.

Acting on the need to make the profession a more inclusive and diverse field, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges announced plans last year to create a new commission addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary profession.

To that end, three recent graduates of St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine shared their perspectives on the issue of diversity in the field and how they plan to make a difference by paying it forward.

Breaking Barriers as a Latina

Atalie Delgado, DVM ’20, an intern at Med Vet Chicago, fell in love with animals on her family’s ranch in Mexico and with becoming a veterinarian. However, she struggled to find support from Latina women who were pursuing degrees as veterinarians—a notion she aims to help fix. Dr. Delgado recently secured a residency position in small animal emergency and critical care at The Animal Medical Center in New York City that she will begin in July.

SGU: What inspired you to enter veterinary medicine?

Dr. Delgado: My strong desire to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine was built on a foundation of love for animals and a deep understanding of the intricate relationships that humans have with animals. The lack of Latinas in the sciences has motivated me and reaffirmed my desire to establish myself as a leader within the veterinary community and to mentor students of Latino origin who are just starting their veterinary medicine education.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Delgado: The lack of open dialogue and support that minority students often face. The promotion of diversity starts with educating future veterinarians and creating safe spaces where students of color feel supported.

At SGU, I gained the confidence to advocate for minority students and women in veterinary medicine. I started the SGU Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) student chapter during my second year of vet school with the help of my classmates, faculty, and staff at SGU. I am eternally grateful to have spent three years with supportive colleagues and faculty who encouraged our endeavors to promote diversity and leadership on the island and in the veterinary community.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Delgado: Working at a busy specialty center in an urban area of Chicago allows me to practice my medical Spanish while also providing quality care to pets of clients who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s through these experiences that I continue to grow as a clinician and strengthen the aspirations I have as a veterinarian.

Obtaining board certification in emergency and critical care residency will help me to advance my career in veterinary medicine and support my desire to teach and advocate for diversity in the field.

VOICE: Championing Diversity in the Veterinary Profession at the Student Level.

Empowering African Americans to Become Veterinarians

Amber Shamburger, DVM ’19, is a small animal general practitioner in Gardner, MA. Originally from New York City, she became interested in veterinary medicine at a young age, becoming laser-focused on pursuing her dream once she entered high school.

Dr. Shamburger began volunteering at a veterinary hospital during her summer vacations, where she gained a mentor. “My mentor played a remarkable role in getting me to where I am today,” she said. “Not only did she teach me so much, but she also opened so many doors for me with the opportunities she offered.” Through her experiences, she hopes to inspire more African American and Hispanic vet students to follow their dreams.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Shamburger: I never realized how much diversity was lacking in this profession until I started vet school. The lack of diversity was quite painful, in stark contrast to the very diverse education I was exposed to years prior. It is important that we strive for diversity in vet med because it will help our profession grow. It will help us relate to our patients more, offer different treatment protocols among different populations, and offer unique perspectives.

SGU: What does it mean to you to be an African American and Hispanic woman in the field?

Dr. Shamburger: To be an African American woman in this field is empowering. Being Hispanic breaks down even more barriers. Although veterinary medicine is dominated by women, it is true that I represent a statistical anomaly. I hope, however, that I may also represent an example to other African American women that may have never considered this profession, to pursue their passion with ease of knowing that it is attainable.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Shamburger: I love that I have the ability to reassure an owner who is concerned about their pet, whether it’s through education or by offering a plan of action. I also love that there is never a dull day in this profession. I can always count on seeing an interesting case and having the opportunity to learn and grow from it.

Raising Awareness of Pet Care Outside the US

Growing up, Dr. Omar Khalaf found himself drawn to animals and their well-being, and that feeling only intensified when he would visit his family in Jordan. The lack of vet care available in the country, and education about the profession in general, motivated him to study veterinary medicine at SGU. Following his January graduation, Dr. Khalaf secured an emergency medicine/small animal rotating internship in Hollywood, FL.

SGU: How were you inspired to enter the field?

Dr. Khalaf: My defining moment was being in Jordan as a kid and seeing many uncared-for stray animals and the lack of education of how to care for them.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Khalaf: The lack of education of the importance of veterinary medicine—and as a result a lack of priority placed on creating veterinarians—in non-American countries to ensure the health of animals there. However, this is beginning to change and as a result we are seeing vets from all different ethnicities and cultures.

I hope to be able to raise awareness of the importance of animal and pet care through education and through social media to people across the world.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Khalaf: Being able to help sick and critically ill animals return to good health and live happy lives. The reward and smile of seeing people seeing their animals healthy is priceless.

— Laurie Chartorynsky

Alum’s Groundbreaking COVID Research Published in JAMA

As the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt, Eric Vail, MD ’13, went from cancer geneticist to COVID-19 diagnostician and researcher.

“New York had its major surge in March. We had ours in December,” said Dr. Vail, director of the clinical molecular pathology laboratory at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “We’re a low-volume, high-specialty lab that normally does 1,300 next generation sequencing cancer tests a year. Since COVID happened, we have done over 100,000 diagnostic PCR tests over the last year alone.”

When the region experienced a dramatic uptick in cases, Dr. Vail and his team were asked to investigate its origin. Their findings were published in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), with Dr. Vail serving as the co-senior author.

What prompted the research, and what did it discover?

At Cedars-Sinai, both our ICUs and main floors were overflowing during the holidays. That’s when hospital administration asked if we had seen the UK variant in our population. When we analyzed sequencing data, we didn’t find that variant, but there were 70-80 cases that all had the same mutations. We said, “this is something different.”

It wasn’t documented in any of the public databases at that time. We did some more analysis and found a cluster of newer mutations in the spike protein—what gives the virus its “corona (crown)”—which is the portion of the virus that attaches to the human cell and allows entry. We then went back into the public databases and saw it just exploded in November right along with our local surge in cases.

What did you learn from this experience?

It’s important from a public health and epidemiological standpoint to know what this virus is doing and how it’s doing it. If the infectivity increases, we can tailor our recommendations around it, but if you don’t look for it, you’ll never know.

It also pointed out the lack of unified public sequencing being done in the United States. There’s a lot of sequencing being done, but it’s very disparate and disconnected. It’s being done in 50 different places without centralized command and control.

What are variants, and how do they come about?

Viruses, and especially RNA viruses, change. Over time, as they go into new people, they have replication errors. When that happens, most of the time it’s deleterious, there becomes less of it, and it goes away. Every once in a while, though, a mutation gets increased fitness for its environment.

Variants come from our behavior, which is, in my opinion, empowering. You have the ability to wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance, and do your part. The virus isn’t plotting its way to get around us. If we do all the things we’re supposed to do, these variants will not emerge.

How well will the current vaccines address these variants?

I think it’s very important not to turn these variants into “scariants.” We’re trying to empower everyone with knowledge, and the knowledge we have right now is that if you can get a vaccine, go get a vaccine. Multiple studies have shown limited to no difference in clinical or immunological change in response to the vaccines from variant to variant. If we all get vaccinated, we can stamp out the coronavirus and get out of the pandemic together.

– Brett Mauser

SGU’s Omidvar Named International Medical Student of the Year

As a former pediatric patient, Ava Omidvar has spent many years in and out of hospitals—to the point where she considers them to be her second home. Through the tireless efforts of her medical teams, she’s been given a second chance at life, and for the sake of her own patients, she’s committed to making the most of it.

For her dedication to emergency medicine, Ms. Omidvar recently received the scholarship award for International Medical Student of the Year by the American Academy of Emergency Medicine and Resident and Student Association.

“The award came as a complete surprise to me,” stated Ms. Omidvar. “I had no idea I was nominated but I felt incredibly honored to be noticed in such a positive way. Getting this award has provided me with even more motivation to continue this path I have chosen—not only to help those most vulnerable, but to also help those who come after me.”

It was given in recognition of her leadership and service as the president of the Emergency Medicine Club at SGU; her research project SAVED: Starting the Conversation of Death for Healthcare Providers, which she presented at the CENTILE conference in Washington DC; and her advocacy for policy topics relevant to the specialty of emergency medicine.

“The desire for giving through medicine is a lifelong passion that has guided me throughout my life,” said Ms. Omidvar, a third-year medical student at St. George’s University. “It has inspired me to take advantage of every educational avenue, job opportunity, and volunteer project available to me. These combined experiences have helped me turn my passion into expertise and my dreams into a reality.”

Currently studying for the USMLE Step 1 exam, Ms. Omidvar looks forward to starting her clinical rotations and getting back into the field as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic. Her plan is to use what she’s learned during her time at SGU to achieve her dream of becoming a pediatric emergency medicine physician in order to provide improved care to her community during a time when healthcare professionals are needed the most.

“My passion for medicine has taken me from the back seat of an ambulance in Baltimore, all the way to a small clinic in Kampala,” shared Ms. Omidvar. “From a classroom in Boston, a government facility in Maryland, a MEDEVAC helicopter over Washington, DC, to the clinics and hospitals of the beautiful country of Grenada. At each turn, I have come face-to-face with the patients and people who inspire me to continue this journey.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

Dreams Realized: Future Physicians Secure Residencies on Match Day 2021

At a time when the world needs more physicians, St. George’s University graduates are prepared to answer the call. On Match Day 2021, more than 1,025 SGU students and alumni learned of where they’ll begin their residencies this summer, joining a vast network of physicians who have made an indelible impact on healthcare worldwide.

The newly matched residents will train in specialties that include neurology, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and more. Dozens more will secure residency positions in the days and weeks to come.

“Match Day marks an important step in the life of every doctor,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University. “The entire SGU community is proud of the hard work our students have put in, and we wish them the very best as they prepare to start their careers officially.”

SGU continues to assist the US in addressing the projected doctor shortage of up to 139,000 physicians across primary and specialty care, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). On average, one in three St. George’s graduates work in medically underserved areas, which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Many SGU alumni have bravely served on the front lines throughout the pandemic.

“The resilience and skill of countless SGU alumni has been on full display over the course of this pandemic,” Dr. Olds said. “We look forward to sending another talented group of students into the world to make a difference in the lives of patients.”

The 2021 match class shared their excitement as the next chapter in their careers came into focus.

SGU Alumni Offer Advice to Newly Matched Residents

“As graduating students of 2021, remember that you survived … four years of medical school, Step 1 and 2, and a pandemic—you can definitely survive residency.”

That’s the advice that 2020 graduate Lauren Sussman, a pediatrics resident at Albany Medical Center, offered to newly matched residents. She is one of dozens of St. George’s University alumni who offered advice to incoming interns who will begin their first year of residency in the US this July.

Students and graduates of SGU find out on Friday where they matched for residency. They will enter the healthcare field at a crucial time in history as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep its grip on much of the country and around the world.

Check out the advice that alumni had for their SGU colleagues.

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MD Grad Is Addressing Another Major Public Health Issue—HIV

Jeremy Aguinaldo, MD ’17, looks at disease not only from up close—with each individual patient—but from a bird’s eye view. A board-certified public health physician for Compass Care in the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Aguinaldo identifies risk factors and problem areas for large populations, and implements programs to improve community health.

“The improvement of an individual’s health also requires improving the entire healthcare system,” said Dr. Aguinaldo, who recently completed his public health and preventive medicine residency at Morehouse School of Medicine.

While countries around the world deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Dr. Aguinaldo is addressing a problem that continues to plague his community—the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

How serious is the current HIV problem in the United States?

More than a million people in the United States are living with HIV, and in 2018, there were about 36,000 new cases. Contracting HIV is no longer considered a death sentence as it was before. With the continued advancements of antiretroviral drugs to manage the virus, HIV had become a chronic illness, similar to how diabetes and blood pressure are managed.

What measures are you taking to help prevent the spread of HIV in your community?

When a patient initially tests positive for HIV, he or she is immediately sent to the clinic where they are linked to care and started on antiretroviral treatments. Patients who start on medication soon after diagnosis have shown to have better outcomes compared to those start much later. By taking the prescribed medications, the viral load (the amount of HIV in the body) is reduced. By reducing the viral load to such a level, it becomes undetectable by standard blood tests.

Patients who maintain an undetectable status will continue to be healthy and prevent transmission, which is referred to as “treatment as prevention.” This is key in preventing HIV spread in the community. The clinic also promotes the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which, when taken daily, is successful in preventing infection with HIV, greatly reducing the risk. It’s also important to raise awareness and educate the community on the benefits of using PrEP.

Dr. Aguinaldo as a medical student in Grenada

What social or economic trends are tied to HIV cases and transmissions?

There is a significant risk of HIV infection in those with mental health illnesses. The common conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolarity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and dementia. These issues make drug adherence much more difficult to comply with and increase high-risk behaviors such as illicit substance use and unprotected sexual activities.

Many individuals in the community I serve are homeless, unemployed, or lack health insurance and thus struggle to make ends meet. They consider their HIV status less of a priority until their own basic needs are met. This is where addressing those social factors, as well as managing them, clinically come into play.

Why has public health become the focus of your career?

When I was getting my master’s degree in public health, I learned from nurses, doctors, statisticians, researchers, engineers, and others who all shared a common goal: to improve the health of the population. Healing is more than just prescribing a simple pill but also collaborating with a team of multiple disciplines to help the patient.

Dr. Aguinaldo’s cancer research presentation as an SGU student

2012 DVM Grad and Self-Taught Artist Lands Cover of JAVMA

Traveling relief veterinarian and self-taught artist, Dr. Laura M. Boggs, is a 2012 cum laude graduate of St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine. Her painting titled “Cat Kneads a Friend,” was featured on the March cover of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). She shared with SGU News her motivations for submitting the painting to JAVMA and why she is grateful for her education at SGU.

St. George’s University: Is this the first painting that you have done for JAVMA?

Dr. Laura Boggs: Yes, this is the first painting for JAVMA, and I am hoping it is not the last.

SGU: What was the motivation for submitting the painting?

Dr. Boggs: I have always admired the artwork displayed on the cover of JAVMA. As soon as I receive my copy, I thumb through directly to the cover insert to see if the artist is also a veterinarian.  The majority of my paintings involve animals, of course, so I took a chance and submitted a few paintings for review. My grandfather would say, “You’ll never catch a fish if your hook is not in the water.” I use this bit of wisdom when I need to muster up bravery to put myself out there. I caught a big one this time.

 

SGU: How does it feel for one of your creations to be on the cover of a prestigious journal such as JAVMA?

Dr. Boggs: I was more than ecstatic when I was informed one of my paintings was accepted. I was also kind of baffled because it is not one of my more technically accurate paintings. It is always fun to see the diversity of preferences out there. This was an acrylic painting I created of my pets. I was practicing a mixed media technique of overlaying tissue paper on the background to create a sense of texture.

SGU: What are your responsibilities as a relief veterinarian and why did you choose this particular field?

Dr. Boggs: I’ve been a relief veterinarian for three years.  Previously, I owned a rural mixed animal clinic. I enjoyed the work but as a single mom I found my work-life balance challenging. Being a relief veterinarian allows me to choose my own schedule and more time to pursue painting as well.

I take my responsibilities as a relief veterinarian very seriously for each animal hospital I enter.  Sometimes I work in emergency medicine, spay/neuter clinics, high end urban clinics, and small low-income community clinics.  I enjoy the diversity of work.  I get to travel to places I never would have visited previously. It challenges me to be creative and adaptive.  Every hospital has their own protocols, pharmacy drug selection, and anesthetics. I do my best to stay current on drugs and procedures.

SGU: What was your experience at SGU?

Dr. Boggs: I am enormously proud to be a St. George’s University graduate. I am an excellent veterinarian, and I owe it to SGU for the opportunity for my education. Animal hospitals who hire my relief services know their patients, clients, and staff are in good hands. I have an adaptive personality, which is required in my position, but it was also a nice trait to have as a student away from home in Grenada. I had some wonderful classmates that I miss along with the island lifestyle.

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU professor looks back on one year combating COVID-19

Dr. Sylvie de Souza (front) and the emergency medicine team at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York. Photos provided by Sylvie de Souza

Dr. Sylvie de Souza, director of emergency medicine at The Brooklyn Hospital Center (TBHC), and a clinical assistant professor for St. George’s University, was on the front lines when it all began. The day was March 1, 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was reported in New York City.

As the coronavirus spread throughout the city, putting pressure on the people and the mechanisms to treat ill patients, she remembers as much about what happened as the way it made her and her colleagues feel. It reminded her another catastrophic event—September 11, 2001.

“We immediately went into preparedness mode while the memory of 9/11 lurked in the back of our minds,” Dr. de Souza said. “Although the nature of the event was different, we all sensed that something major and perhaps terrible was about to happen. The anxiety of the unknown heading our way was palpable.”

A year later, Dr. de Souza reflected on the entire experience, how she and her team weathered the storm, and the hope she has for—and sees in—future SGU medical students who she trains for the fast-paced world of emergency medicine.

St. George’s University: How would you describe the past year in the emergency department at TBHC?

Dr. Sylvie de Souza: In September 2001, many of us remember standing by and watching New York’s bravest selflessly run into the burning building when everyone was running out, running toward the danger, into the fire, to save as many as they could. Sadly, when the unthinkable happened, we were the ones who went to the firehouses, like most New Yorkers, to praise the bravery and console the unimaginable loss. As emergency workers, there was not much else we could do other than what we had been trained to do: treat the walking wounded and the first responders. And we did, for weeks to come. Our lives were never directly endangered on 9/11.

This all changed in March of 2020 when the danger came directly at us. The fire came to us, and it grew uncontrollably with each day that passed. We stood in it, day after day, for hours on end, with little sleep, food, or drink, hardly recognizable in our plastic gear, trying to help as many as we could, with our own fear in the pit of our stomach, watching some of us fall, victims of the vicious enemy we were fighting. Many came to help in every way they could, but everybody knew, as we did, that this time around, it was as though we were the ones standing in the burning building, right there among the victims we were trying to save.

What an amazing twist of fate it was that, this time around, it was us New York’s bravest who came to clap for every evening. If anyone knew what we were feeling, I thought, it would be them. They clapped with the rest of the bystanders, a daily incantation of sorts, to harness the courage they knew we needed to keep going.

SGU: How did 2020 change you as a physician?

Dr. de Souza: I once read this sentence in a French publication. I do not recall who the author is, but it stayed with me: “Courage does not consist of doing the work that is expected of you; that is competence. Real courage is to conquer one’s fear and see the duty before the effort.”

I cannot recall a time in my entire career when this sentence rang truer or when I was, along with my colleagues, tested to honor the oath we had taken to come to the aid of others. It took all we had to overcome our own fears. We worked endless days and nights, not knowing what the fate of our patients would be, or our own, instead trusting that we were doing exactly what we were supposed to do—to follow our calling and answer the call of duty.

Many lessons were learned in the face of such adversity and uncertainty: 2020 was a year of great loss, but also a year filled with a sense of community, resilience, and hope. I face 2021 with a renewed sense of purpose and the knowledge that preparedness and togetherness are likely the most important tools we possess to confront adversity.

SGU: In what way has your role changed the most during the pandemic?

Dr. de Souza: With the restrictions imposed by NYC Department of Health at the beginning of the pandemic, no visitors were allowed in the hospital. Those measures were in place to protect those who were not yet infected.

As a result, we were no longer simply caregivers to the growing number of critically ill patients. We suddenly became their only “visitors,” their only connection to the outside world and their loved ones, their consolers, their prayer partners, their only and sometimes last human interaction, and most poignantly, the last ones to hold their hands as they slipped into unconsciousness or died. No amount of training could have prepared us to take on a responsibility of that scale. Watching patients die deprived of their loved ones or making their hastened last goodbyes on a video monitor was almost too much to bear.

Surrounded by all this despair and grief, we became closer as a team; we suddenly felt responsible for one another and supported each other through each day. As emergency workers, we had always known the importance of functioning as a team. This time, however, there was a whole new twist. We were now a team who had to operate in constant danger, facing mortality, that of those we cared for … and our own. We shared the same fears about our own unpredictable fate, fighting this vicious invisible enemy, not unlike a platoon sent to combat.

The Brooklyn Hospital Center. The oldest hospital in Brooklyn was one of many in New York City to combat the emerging COVID-19 crisis.

SGU: What can St. George’s University students rotating with the TBHC EM department expect to learn?

Dr. de Souza: Several faculty, myself included, partake in the weekly didactic conferences for EM residents and medical students. Our program has a dedicated clerkship director who organizes a series of didactic sessions and workshops where students receive direct feedback from the faculty. Aside from some exposure to a series of common complaints, medical students rotating through our department will leave the clerkship with a basic knowledge on the approach to the undifferentiated patient and introductory skills for the rapid recognition of the critically ill patient. We also place a lot of emphasis on the ability to communicate and function effectively in a team.

 

“As emergency workers, we had always known the importance of functioning as a team. This time, however, there was a whole new twist.”

SGU: Is there a personality trait that you find to be common among SGU medical students?

Dr. de Souza: I have had the pleasure of working many SGU students who rotated through our department over the years. Several of them became some of our most stellar residents. I have found them to be driven, focused, and resilient. Most salient is their overall ability to adapt and make the best out of any situation.

SGU: What is one piece of advice that you would give to a student who was considering a career in emergency medicine?

Dr. de Souza: During your ED rotations, immerse yourself in the ED life and culture. Merge with the ED team. It’s not about anyone of us and it’s not about you; it’s about the patient. When the team wins, and you participated, you won. Don’t worry so much about having all the answers. Be perceived as a vibrant, passionate, and compassionate member of the team—someone who anyone would want by their side in the trenches.

– Brett Mauser

Get to Know Dr. Sylvie de Souza

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Video produced by The Brooklyn Hospital Center

Under the Microscope: COVID-19 Vaccines in Grenada

Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University, has committed his life to studying tropical and infectious diseases. All over the world, he has seen how viruses—these microscopic parasites that are invisible to the naked eye—can spread through a community, leaving damage in their wake.

One of the best methods to combat the virus is the use of vaccines. A version of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine began being administered in Grenada last week, and a full program is currently being rolled out that places essential workers, elderly and Grenadian residents with pre-existing conditions on the priority list. Having long studied vaccines and their positive effect on healthcare, Dr. Olds is an ardent supporter of their implementation.

I got my first COVID vaccine today,” he said.

Dr. Olds shed light on the vaccine that is currently being distributed in Grenada, what citizens can expect when receiving it, and the long-term outlook for COVID-19 in the country.

St. George’s University: What vaccine does Grenada currently have in stock? Is it being administered elsewhere in the world and how does it compare to other versions?

Dr. G. Richard Olds: Grenada is currently using the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is currently being used extensively in England. It was developed in partnership with Oxford University. In contrast to the two vaccines being used in the US, it is a chimpanzee adenovirus that has had the message for the spike protein placed within it. This vaccine can’t make humans sick, but it induces a high level of protection against COVID-2. Just like the mRNA vaccines used in the US, this vaccine requires two doses but has the advantage of being stored in cold but not freezing environments.

SGU: How exactly does this vaccine provide protection against SARS-CoV-2?

Dr. Olds: The COVID-2 virus attaches to human cells through a molecule on its surface called a spike protein. All current COVID vaccines target this molecule. Vaccinated people develop antibodies that block the binding of the spike protein to human cells. Unable to bind, the virus is unable to infect cells.

SGU: How long is the protection expected to last?

Dr. Olds: How long the vaccine will protect those who receive it is currently unknown, but it looks like all vaccines provide protection for at least a year and probably longer.

 

“If everyone doesn’t take the vaccine, we run the risk that COVID will circulate for a very long time.”

 

SGU: Is the vaccine available in one shot or does it require multiple shots over a period of time?

Dr. Olds: Most of the seven COVID vaccines require two shots, but the Johnson and Johnson vaccine only needs one shot. This is not currently available in Grenada. The interval between the two shots varies, but about a month is the most common. There are experiments in England now with the AstraZeneca vaccine with longer periods between the shots.

SGU: How safe is the vaccine that is available in Grenada? Are there any side effects?

Dr. Olds: All the COVID vaccines appear very safe. In blinded control studies, no difference was seen between vaccinated people and those that got sugar water in terms of long-term side effects. In the short run, vaccinated people will likely feel soreness in their arm, feel poorly for a few days, and may have a low-grade fever. None of these responses are serious, and they often respond to over-the-counter medicine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine currently in Grenada does not seem to cause severe allergic reactions. All minor reactions to the vaccine appear more commonly in reaction to the second vaccine, and are a sign that they are working.

SGU: Are there any pre-existing conditions that would prevent someone from getting it?

Dr. Olds: If a person is severely immune compromised—such as being infected with the AIDS virus, on high-dose steroids, getting chemotherapy, or having an organ transplant—they should consult a doctor before getting the vaccine.

SGU: Once an individual receives the vaccine, how will restrictions change for them?

Dr. Olds: Even after you get fully vaccinated, people will still need to wear a mask and socially distance until everyone on the island is vaccinated. That’s because vaccinated people are protected from dying from COVID, but they could still transmit the virus to others. Once everyone is vaccinated, life should return to normal.

SGU: Do you believe that all eligible individuals should receive the vaccine?

Dr. Olds: Everyone over 18 years of age should get the vaccine. Soon we will know if children over 12 should get the vaccine. The vaccine is very safe, and COVID can lead to serious illness or fatalities. In addition, COVID can cause long-term health issues for people. By now, millions of people in England have already received the vaccine currently available in Grenada without a problem.

If everyone doesn’t take the vaccine, we run the risk that COVID will circulate for a very long time, and the more the virus circulates, the greater the chance that a new variant will develop that the vaccine will not protect people from. It’s a race, and I hope this time humans win.