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Michael Abrahams | Calling out Dr Hunter

Published:Tuesday | December 22, 2020 | 12:09 AM

My colleague, Dr Roger Hunter, a neurosurgeon, has been making the rounds in the electronic and print media sharing his perspectives and offering advice regarding COVID-19.

First, the good news. Dr Hunter has reminded us that maladies such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes are killing more Jamaicans than COVID-19, and has urged us to adopt healthy lifestyles, lose excess weight and control conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, as doing so will make us less vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. He also spoke of the stress that the pandemic has subjected us to, and has called for more psychiatric, psychological, counselling, and social work services. I agree. The World Heath Organization’s (WHO) definition of health includes physical, mental, and social well-being, and I am grateful that my colleague’s approach to managing the pandemic is a holistic one.

Unfortunately, along with the aforementioned pertinent observations and useful advice, there have been some utterances from Dr Hunter that are cause for concern, as he has been making statements about COVID-19 and the behaviour of the virus that causes it that are misleading, and quite frankly dangerous, especially coming from a physician

Dr Hunter appears to be on a mission to convince us that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is a “winter virus” and that, as he recently stated on an interview on JNN, “the coronavirus which causes the common cold is not lethal in hot climates”. These statements are simply not true and can easily be refuted. Many persons, apparently including Hunter, equate the word ‘coronavirus’ with COVID-19. But we ought not to. The coronavirus is not just one distinct virus, but rather a type of virus, and there are at least seven different kinds ( PubMed Central, October 31, 2020).

Some types cause the common cold, with mild respiratory symptoms. Some types cause SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and can produce severe respiratory disease such as pneumonia. The coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 behaves differently from those that cause the common cold. Of all the coronaviruses, it appears to be the most aggressive, with the greatest propensity to cause severe illness. Also, there is a reason why it is called the “novel’ coronavirus. ‘Novel’ means new. It is new to us and we are still learning about it, and what we know, among other things, is that it is not simply a “cold-loving common cold virus”. When asked on a ‘Smile Jamaica’ TVJ interview why he refers to the virus as a “cold-loving” virus, his response was, “It is a cold-loving virus because, by nature, that is how it is.” But where is the evidence?

Dr Hunter claims that the virus is not lethal in hot climates, using 26°C as the temperature above which the virus becomes ineffective. He recently stated on the interview on TVJ that there is “a bag of … tons of studies” to support his claim, but has not provided evidence of the existence of this research. On the other hand, according to a recent study examining COVID-19 transmission in Brazil and published in Science of The Total Environment (August 10, 2020), “There is no evidence supporting that case counts of COVID-19 could decline when the weather becomes warmer, in temperatures above 25.8°C.” Another study from Japan, published in International Journal of Infectious Diseases (June 2020), concluded that “the relationship between infectivity of COVID-19 and temperature is not clear”. Also, the WHO clearly states on its website that, “Exposing yourself to the sun or temperatures higher than 25°C DOES NOT protect you from COVID-19.’’


Based on multiple research findings, it has been agreed that the best way to avoid COVID-19 is to practise regular handwashing/sanitising and respiratory hygiene, maintain physical distancing when possible, and wear masks when around others, especially in enclosed spaces. However, in his interview on TVJ, when asked what was the best way to protect ourselves from COVID-19, his response was, “You exercise. You lose weight. You control your metabolic conditions. You make your body very hostile to the coronavirus setting up and making disease inside your body.” There was no mentioning of handwashing, mask wearing or physical distancing. Also, there is no objective evidence that the measures he advised will offer sufficient protection.

Indeed, Dr Hunter rubbished the wearing of masks, referring to the virus being very small and able to pass through them. By saying this, he exposed his ignorance of the plethora of research supporting the wearing of masks and how the virus is spread. Yes, the virus can pass through pores in a mask, but the virus does not fly solo. The viruses are carried in droplets, which are larger than the size of a single virus and may be trapped in the mask. Yes, a mask is not 100 per cent effective, but research has shown that it helps, and should be used in conjunction with physical distancing and handwashing. According to a recent article in Nature (October 6, 2020), “The science supports that face coverings are saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Dr Hunter’s lack of understanding of virology was further exposed by him claiming that because the virus is “cold-loving”, the vaccine has to be kept at a very cold temperature. This argument is irrational. The vaccine is not the virus, and all vaccines, including those for other viruses, are kept refrigerated or frozen. Dr Hunter further states that we will not need widespread vaccination in Jamaica because most of us will get the virus, contradicting his claim that the virus is a “winter virus”.

As my colleague Dr Marc Ricketts said on a more recent interview on ‘Smile Jamaica’ on TVJ, “misinformation is for more easily spread if it is laced with elements of truth”, and Dr Hunter has been disseminating a lot of misinformation recently. In medical school, we were taught to practise evidence-based medicine. For a medical practitioner to state opinion as fact is not just disingenuous, but also has the potential to cause harm, such as rubbishing the wearing of masks and encouraging people from areas ravaged by COVID-19 to come to Jamaica during the winter tourist season.

As another colleague of mine, Dr Sandra Jackson, a virologist with decades of experience, told me, “As healthcare workers, let us try to understand the nature of this virus using scientific facts and not trivialise the devastating consequences that this virus has had, and will have, on the global population.”

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator, and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.