As I am writing this column, the Omicron dilemma is playing out in real time. Just when we thought the pandemic was nearing its end, a new variant appears that is more transmissible than Delta, which was more transmissible than any other previous variant. Lockdowns were lifted, business was getting back to normal and, just like that, a new “wave” arrived and we had to reset globally to deal with the new threat. To complicate the matter, it appears that previous vaccines are not effective in preventing transmission. (A technical advisory group established by the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated to ensure they are effective against new variants like Omicron. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention says COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.) So, vaccinated people and unvaccinated people alike are impacted. Fortunately, this strain has been less virulent but, even with lower virulence, the sheer numbers are still having an impact on health systems.
The COVID situation has become very complicated and there are many questions arising within the scientific community and the wider community. For example, I have seen several articles recently questioning whether frequent booster shots are beneficial or harmful. A friend who is a doctor and is vaccinated indicated that if you have to take a booster every three months, the vaccine is not working and we have to begin considering if there should not be a change in strategy.
Many people are suffering from COVID fatigue and vaccination fatigue. The majority of the scientific community still favors vaccinations because, according to the data, vaccinated persons are far less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID. Research is continuing, and time will tell whether the vaccine strategy needs to be adjusted or not.
This brings us to the question of: what should we do to fix the situation? In a country like The Bahamas, we were just beginning to see a return to normalcy and our tourism-based economy seemed on the road to recovery. Cruise ships had returned in abundance and even home porting commenced. Now, we are faced with the Omicron dilemma.
Now, there is apprehension, and difficult choices are being forced on the Bahamian government. We have seen cruise ships denied entry and some of these ships are registered in The Bahamas. The cruise industry and The Bahamas are inextricably linked for mutual benefit and, yes, this critical partner is facing another hurdle, due to Omicron.
There is ongoing debate within the scientific community regarding the philosophy of dealing with, and hopefully ending, the pandemic. Several scientists and medical professionals are questioning the current approach and interjecting their thoughts into the debate that has been led by the WHO and the American COVID “czar”, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The question is what can we do and what should we do in The Bahamas? I have a few ideas that I believe may be helpful:
• Recognize that we are past the stage of being able to prevent strains from coming to The Bahamas. So, we must strategize on how to live with COVID for the foreseeable future. That means we can never again shutdown the country or engage in lockdowns unless there is a much deadlier strain that emerges. (Hopefully, any new strains will be less virulent.) Our economy should only be interrupted if there is imminent threat of major loss of life on a national level.
• Our strategy cannot be vaccine-based, although vaccines will play a prominent role. In our ministry, we formed a COVID response team and were really able to help a number of people survive by providing sound, early treatment options including vitamins, supplements, teas, essential medications and immune-building protocols for healthy living during and after COVID. Ensuring that people were aware of oximeters, and giving them access to medical and nutritional professionals on call, to make critical decisions, also played a big role in the success we achieved. I know of instances where people would almost surely have died if this critical information and access was not provided. Very little has been proffered globally about early treatment and home treatment other than to stay hydrated. People should not be left at home with no instructions other than to call the hospital if you become severely ill and can’t breathe.
• We have to establish a living-with-COVID strategy. We are all hoping and believing that this wave will be the last of COVID but we have been here before and seen variants emerge. We have to adjust to the fact that life must go on even with the presence of COVID. We cannot hide our way out of COVID because we are quite aware that we cannot hide from the colds or flus that re-emerge each year. If the strains do remain less virulent, we have to establish that life will go on as usual and the same or similar response that we have had to colds and flu is the response we need for COVID, which is essentially a “cousin” of the existing cold and flu viruses.
• Eventually, we may need to stop constantly testing for COVID and use testing only for symptomatic individuals or those in communal environments where rapid transmission is likely and where vulnerable persons reside. The normal healthy population should be able to live without constant testing unless as I stated before a more virulent variant emerges.
Being a person of faith, I believe those of us in the faith community should continue to pray and seek divine wisdom because the world is obviously in a place where human wisdom has reached its limits. I am also an optimist and believe that better days are ahead. It does not mean that I am not also a realist and understand where we are and why we have had to take the actions we have taken to this point. I believe we are nearing the end of the pandemic phase and have to prepare for the endemic phase and live with the ubiquitous presence of COVID. I do not know what the future holds but I believe that the future is better ahead. I am also reminded of the words of Jesus, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
We shall overcome Omicron and any other relatives that emerge.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.