When Black Swan events occur, CEOs go into double duty mode. They focus on keeping their operations running, even as they navigate through the oncoming unknowns.
In February 2020, the US entered its third year of a Goldilocks Economy – ultra low unemployment, low interest rates, low inflation and strong GDP growth. Then the once-in-a-century Black Swan descended with fierce rapidity. The extrinsic “Covid shock” starting in March 2020 created a massive economic dive along with the onset of massive and prolonged psycho-social distress.
Fortunately, modern bioscience has risen to the challenge of Covid. In less than one year since the emergence of Covid, two therapeutics, Gilead’s remdesivir and Lilly’s monoclonal antibody, have already been approved. Additionally, the frighteningly high death rate seen in April from Covid is down and now, two vaccines have emerged. These two initial vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, show an astounding efficacy of 90%+. (Note: as a comparison, most flu vaccines have about 50% efficacy.)
These two vaccines are based on ultra-tiny bits of genetic material that tunes up the body to produce antibodies that blocks Covid-19 from doing its mischief.
These vaccines are part of the mRNA (modified RNA) class of vaccines – the other important three classes being viral vector delivery, protein subunit vaccines and weakened virus vaccines.
• Viral vector delivered vaccines typically deploy specifically engineered adenovirus to build immunity to Covid. Since adenovirus drives about 25% of the common colds, the body is no stranger to it. J+J and Astra-Zeneca’s vaccines, are examples of this approach.
• Protein subunit vaccines are derived from a piece of the targeted pathogen—in this case, the Covid-19 virus. It typically creates an immune response to Covid while avoiding the Covid side effects.
• Weakened or killed virus vaccines have previously been deployed in flu vaccines. CanSino (China) has one such vaccine in testing in many countries.
The sudden and acute disruption created by Covid has caused the bioscience ecosystem to go into overdrive, in order to contain Covid as fast as possible.
As I said on CNBC recently, there may now be overinvestment, but that is okay given the magnitude of economic and psycho-social distress brought on by Covid-19. There are now 202 vaccine candidates, 47 of which are in human testing.
There are now close to a dozen vaccines in late-stage trials. The probability of the post-Covid “new normal” by Q2 2021 has become very high.
CEOs now need to get their people to visualize that the light at the end of the tunnel may be there as early as four months away. It means only four more months to keep making the sacrifices to keep Covid-19 at bay and to team up and to emerge with competitive strength at the other end of the tunnel.
Vaccines protect individuals and populations. Individuals have a duty to themselves and to society to get vaccinated once access becomes available.
It is ironic that in an advanced country as the USA, only 50% of the population takes the annual flu vaccine. Among those who don’t are the so-called “anti-vaxxers” and the “doubters.” Among the “doubters,” election-year politics have added to the doubts about the Covid-19 vaccine.
CEOs can deploy gentle persuasion and symbolism to get the vaccination rates to be as high as possible in their companies. They and members of senior management can make a public display of their personal vaccinations. They can clearly emphasize that talk of the vaccine being a “Trump vaccine” is nonsense. We are just witnessing good science. The government has already shown its willingness to provide free additional quantities of vaccines and therapeutics against Covid. Also by incentivizing those who administer the anti-Covid treatments, the government is making it free to the consumers. CEOs too can do their part. They can give time off for their employees to get vaccinated whether it’s a single dose vaccine or a booster shot three weeks later.
Covid has accelerated many ongoing trends such as genetic science, frontier tech and e-health; it also creates another opportunity for CEOs, who can now demonstrate their “next-gen CEO” capabilities, especially the enhanced capability of persuasion and influence.