retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the United States, the number of confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases stands at 15,370,339, resulting in the deaths of 290,474 people an d 8,983,641 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 68,033,211 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,552,770 fatalities and 47,128,355 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

•  Breaking news this morning as the Wall Street Journal reports:

"The Food and Drug Administration concluded in a detailed analysis that the first Covid-19 vaccine being considered for U.S. distribution “met the prescribed success criteria” in a clinical study, suggesting the agency will soon green-light the historic product.

"The agency Tuesday released two separate analyses, one from its own staff scientists and one from the vaccine’s manufacturers, Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE.

"The FDA analysis highlighted various 'known benefits' from the vaccine. These included 'reduction in the risk of confirmed Covid-19 occurring at least seven days after Dose 2.' The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses for full protection.  In addition, the FDA said another benefit was reduction in the risk of confirmed Covid-19 after the first dose and before the second dose. Another clear benefit, the agency said, was 'reduction in the risk of confirmed severe Covid-19 any time after dose 1.'

"The reference to reduction in confirmed severe disease was important, as early critics of some of the vaccine trials were concerned that only mild to moderate disease was prevented."

The FDA says that "the vaccine carried certain side effects in greater numbers than with patients taking a placebo. The most common were injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.  The most common were injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever. Severe 'adverse reactions' were rare, most frequent after the second dose, and generally less frequent in older adults greater than 55 years of age.

Sign me up.

Then, create an international protocol so that we're able to know who has been vaccinated and who has not.   Do that, and suddenly getting on planes and going to conferences and sitting in bars and restaurants and seeing and hugging our family members and friends becomes far less problematic.

•  Good news this morning as "Britain’s National Health Service delivered its first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, opening a mass vaccination campaign with little precedent in modern medicine and making Britons the first people in the world to receive a clinically authorized, fully tested vaccine," the New York Times reports.

The first person to get the now-authorized vaccine was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, who said, "If I can do it, so can you."

Keenan added, "It means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.”

She may be getting a little ahead of herself on that last bit - I'm not sure that once you get a vaccine you can immediately venture back into the world.  Among other things, she has to get another dose in 21 days.  But good for her, because the only way we can achieve any sort of normality is by having enough people get vaccinated.  And I must say I love her no-nonsense approach to the issue - take the shot, trust the science, stop whining, and let us all get on with our lives.  Sort of reminds me of my mom.

•  The New York Times this morning reports that there may be fewer doses of one vaccine available in the US than widely expected, since the federal government last summer chose not to lock in supplies beyond the 100 million doses that Pfizer originally contracted to sell the US.  The government was given the option to guarantee a supply of 500 million doses but declined to do so.

The story notes that "the vaccine being produced by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, is a two-dose treatment, meaning that 100 million doses is enough to vaccinate only 50 million Americans. The vaccine is expected to receive authorization for emergency use in the U.S. as soon as this weekend, with another vaccine, developed by Moderna, also likely to be approved for emergency use soon."

The Times notes that "the bulk of the global supply of vaccines has already been claimed by wealthy countries like the United States, Canada, Britain and countries in Europe, leading to criticism that people in low- and middle-income countries will be left behind."

In a statement, Pfizer said that “any additional doses beyond the 100 million are subject to a separate and mutually acceptable agreement,” and that “the company is not able to comment on any confidential discussions that may be taking place with the U.S. government.”

•  From the New York Times:

'"The United States has recorded its most coronavirus-related deaths over a weeklong period, as a brutal surge gathers speed across the country.

"With a seven-day average of 2,249 deaths, the country broke the previous mark of 2,232 set on April 17 in the early weeks of the pandemic. Seven-day averages can provide a more accurate picture of the virus’s progression than daily death counts, which can fluctuate and disguise the broader trend line."

The Times goes on:

"Much has changed since the previous peak in April. The coronavirus is no longer concentrated in big urban areas like New York City and now envelops much of the country, including rural areas that had avoided it for several months.

"Many of the hardest-hit counties on a per person basis are now in the Midwest. North Dakota, where one in every 10 residents has contracted the virus, has the highest total reported cases by population, followed closely by South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

"The latest wave to hit the United States has hospitalized record numbers. Each day since Dec. 2, more than 100,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals. That far surpasses the number of people hospitalized during the peaks spring and summer, which at their worst had nearly 60,000 Americans in the hospital daily."

•  The Seattle Times reports that "with coronavirus infections growing exponentially across Washington and people under the age of 40 accounting for nearly 60% of new cases, health officials are trying new tactics to reach the crucial youth demographic. They’re abandoning the formality of traditional public health messages and enlisting young people as advisers and emissaries to others of their own age."

The story says that "the need to communicate more effectively with young people is reflected in the statistics.

"Infection rates in people aged 10 to 29 more than tripled in King County between early October and early November. For the week of Nov. 17, the rate of new infections in adults under 30 was 441 per 100,000 — nearly twice as high as any other age group."

•  In San Bernardino, California, The Sun reports that Stater Bros. Markets has decided to reinstate a $2 per hour wage increase for all hourly workers during the next three weeks.  It is the fifth time that the company has boosted pay on a temporary basis, with CEO Pete Van Helden saying in a statement that it "is but a small token of our company’s appreciation of their efforts."

I like it when appreciation is expressed.  My only question - and I've been asking this from the beginning - is whether temporary wage increases designed to tell workers how essential they are end up communicating the fact that these employees are somehow less essential when then increase is taken away.  The bigger question is this - do retailers have to find ways to communicate and reward essential-ness on a more consistent basis?

It is all about mindset.  In the same way that I think retailers have to think more in terms of lifetime customer value and less about transactions, should they be applying the same philosophy to their workforces?

•  Fox Business reports that "CVS is looking to rapidly hire thousands of employees to help administer COVID-19 vaccines once the Food and Drug Administration green lights a candidate for distribution.

"The company alerted customers over email that it's trying to up its workforce "urgently" in order to be ready for the surge in patients waiting to get vaccinated."

•  They're calling it "the Fauci effect."

National Public Radio (NPR) reports that there is a record number of applicants to medical schools this year - up 18 percent over a year ago, with experts saying that the increase seems to be "driven by the example of medical workers and public health figures such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases."

NPR says that "Stanford University School of Medicine reports a 50% jump in the number of applications, or 11,000 applications for 90 seats. Boston University School of Medicine says applications are up 27%, to 12,024 for about 110 seats."

Experts say the only comparison in terms of increased applications is what happened after 9-11.

NPR writes, "Fauci said he sees the flood of medical school applicants as a sign that people are thinking about social justice — 'that you have responsibility not only to yourself, but as an integral part of society.'

"He said he hopes the trend will counterbalance and 'maybe would even overcome the other side of the coin, which is the really somewhat stunning and disturbing fact that people have no regard at all for society, only just focusing very selfishly on themselves'."

Can I get an "amen"?