FRONT PORCH: COVID-19 – Magical Thinking is Killing Us

SINCE December, a steady flow of Bahamians have continued to die from COVID-19. The great majority of these were unvaccinated. More will continue to die, especially with a new wave likely on the horizon in the weeks ahead. Some estimate a new wave may begin within six to eight weeks.

Four weeks ago, Doctor’s Hospital CEO, Dr Charles Diggiss, warned: “Regardless of what number you give it, if there is a problem somewhere in the world that’s seeing a significant number of infections hospitalisations and death, then it’s really important for us to continue to pay attention to that because we don’t have any closed borders.”

The trajectory has been during various waves, an uptick in cases in Western Europe followed by an increase in cases in North America, followed by increased cases in The Bahamas and the Caribbean.

This is the course which BA.2, a strain of the highly contagious Omicron variant, may follow in the coming weeks.

We do not know how many people will die or become ill. But we do know there is likely to be needless and preventable suffering, ill-health and death, with funeral homes and obituary pages sadly profiting.

Yet given our recent past experiences of various waves, we should begin preparing more deliberately and act with greater caution.

Those at greater risk, who will live, are vaccinated and boosted. This includes older people and those with immunocompromised systems. Those who are at greater risk from dying are the obese, the unhealthy and the unvaccinated, many of whom are, sadly, self-satisfactorily and willfully resisting getting vaccinated.

The Bahamas government must do more to boost vaccination rates. There needs to be increased and more vigorous messaging at every level of government. Still, this is largely a cultural problem, a mix of religious superstition and lack of understanding of basic science hyper fueled by social media conspiracy theories.


An edition of The Economist last year described the state of the pandemic in the Pacific archipelago of Papua New Guinea, “one of the least vaccinated countries in the world”.

The news magazine reported: “A tradition of superstition and a belief in sorcery worsen the problem, and add a local twist to the online humbug. Health workers deployed to vaccinate vulnerable people in the near-inaccessible interior of the country report being met with naked hostility.

“Locals told them they had heard that the vaccine would cause them to drop dead in three years. Others said the jab would turn their arms magnetic. Some believed they were immune because Covid was a ‘white man’s disease’. Many said that the disease was made up.”

COVID-19 remains one of our leading health care threats. Magical thinking, superstition, putting our head in the sand and giddily thinking the pandemic is over, will not make it go away.

Faith and superstition are not the same. Genuine faith embraces reason, facts and truth. Superstition indulges in magical thinking and bizarre conspiracies. Faith brings together intellect and emotions. Superstition is anti-intellectual and typically charged with emotionalism.

We remain in significant ways a pre-modern, pre-scientific and pre-Enlightenment people, with deadly and often tragic consequences, which is not God’s will. Instead it is willful ignorance and a sort of lack of genuine faith.

The Bahamas has had a terrible experience with Omicron, as have many other countries, despite the self-soothing mantra that the variant was less severe. Its transmissibility, especially among the unvaccinated, made it a very deadly threat.

Death toll

Reuters reported at the end of January on Omicron in the United States: “The Omicron death toll has now surpassed the height of deaths caused by the more severe Delta variant when the seven-day average peaked at 2,078 on Sept 23 last year. An average of 2,200 people a day, mostly unvaccinated, are now dying due to Omicron.

“That is still below the peak of 3,300 lives lost a day during the surge in January 2021 as vaccines were just being rolled out.”

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) recently reported on the results of a finding published in the eminent peer-reviewed British medical journal The Lancet.

The IHME website noted: “More than three times as many people may have died worldwide as a result of the pandemic than official COVID-19 death records suggest, according to an analysis published in The Lancet.

“While the official COVID-19 death toll was 5.9 million between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, the new study estimates 18.2 million excess deaths occurred over the same period, suggesting the full impact of the pandemic may have been far greater.

“Excess deaths – the difference between the number of recorded deaths from all causes and the number expected based on past trends – are a key measure of the true death toll of the pandemic.”

COVID remains a deadly disease, mostly and especially for the unvaccinated, many of whom only become more serious about its consequences after contracting the disease or seeing a loved one or colleague succumb to the virus.

Weary of restrictions and with our penchant for slackness in the best of times, many are acting and cavorting as if the pandemic has nearly permanently disappeared.

We are again congregating in large groups, often indoors and with poor ventilation, including at weddings, funerals and other social events, often avoiding social distancing in enclosed spaces.

This past Sunday, Politico reported: “Our focus should be on preparation, not on panic,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said … in discussing the latest rising wave of Covid-19 cases in Europe.

Be prepared

He observed: “We should be prepared that COVID hasn’t gone away. There may be rises and falls in the months ahead, but here’s the key: Our goal is to keep people out of the hospital, it’s to save their lives. We have more tools to do that than ever before.

“If we get people these tools – vaccines, boosters, treatments – then we can actually get through waves that may come and go.”

Barbados has a vaccination rate of approximately 55 percent. Our rate is 40-plus percent. If one goes to a gathering, approximately six out of 10 people at such an event are unvaccinated.

While we should not panic, how prepared is The Bahamas, with many fewer taking vaccines followed by boosters? Because our positive health and vaccination profiles are considerably below that of Europe, we cannot take our cues on opening and relaxation of measures from that continent.

A US travel agent in a letter to this journal stressed: “Your added problem is your low vaccination rates and our government’s rather high risk category for visitors making it difficult for visitors to purchase travel health insurance and feel safe in The Bahamas.”

With approximately 66 percent of Americans vaccinated we cannot take our cues from our northern neighbour. If the coming version of Omicron warrants, there may be a need for a tightening of various restrictions, including the numbers allowed at public events, especially indoors.

Many medical experts continue to warn of the long-term effects of COVID-19, including effects which may not be known by medical science or individuals for years to come.

The Mayo Clinic warns: “COVID-19 symptoms can sometimes persist for months. The virus can damage the lungs, heart and brain, which increases the risk of long-term health problems.

“Most people who have coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) recover completely within a few weeks. But some people – even those who had mild versions of the disease – continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery...

“In some people, lasting health effects may include long-term breathing problems, heart complications, chronic kidney impairment, stroke and Guillain-Barre syndrome – a condition that causes temporary paralysis. Some adults and children experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome after they have had COVID-19.”

Despite these warnings, it is likely, given various cultural and nonscientific mindsets, that The Bahamas will only reach a certain vaccination rate. But if more people can be encouraged to get vaccinated and boosted more lives can be saved and suffering avoided.

CNN medical analyst Dr Leana Wen stated succinctly: “In general, it is not a good strategy to try to contract an illness. Omicron is less likely to result in severe disease compared with Delta, but it still causes severe illness in some people. In addition, even mild illness may be very unpleasant and result in feeling unwell, missing work and being unable to care for family members for days.

“You could also infect other people, and there is the possibility of long-haul symptoms as well. A better strategy is to make sure to get the vaccine and booster so that if you were to encounter BA.2 (or another variant of Covid-19), you are as well protected as possible.”

A magical thinking mindset about COVID-19 is like a medieval castle with ramparts and other pre-modern defences such as drawbridges and surrounding moats.

Still, such an impenetrable fortress of superstition is no match for an enemy cum virus that is much cleverer, more determined and more lethal than such an immoveable and outdated mindset.


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