Tag Archives: swine flu

Swine Flu and Wall Street — Huh?

Oh boy. Another swine flu shitstorm. And it involves the Wizards of Wall Street. But it’s about more than who gets the scarce vaccine (or not) these days. It’s all about trust.

Here’s the back-story.

A number of big Wall Street firms — Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and others — have received the vaccine — while many people on Main Street who fall into the “high-risk” category remain essentially waiting out in the cold and in the queue. And it doesn’t appear that the Wall Street guys and gals have broken any rules or done anything wrong — other than reinforce the public perception that they are, ah, pigs.

Many organizations — business, nonprofits, education, government and so on — arrange for employees to receive flu shots and other medical services at the workplace. When I worked at Goodrich, there was a doctor on staff, even when the company had essentially downsized in Akron to the point where it was just a white-collar headquarters operation. Pretty sweet, actually.

So it doesn’t surprise me that the Wall Street firms do likewise — and getting hold of the swine flu vaccine to administer to their “high-risk” employees — pregnant women, for example — makes sense.

But many don’t trust that those high-risk individuals will be the ones who actually get the vaccine. And the reputation of the Wall Street firms is so bad — and deservedly so — that it is hard to feel good about them getting even equal treatment these days. The thought of them moving to the head of the line, well, where is that pitchfork?

Ah, trust. Once lost, hard to regain.

And once you are viewed as swine, you’re an easy target.

For instance, here are some comments by Sen. Chris Dodd, as reported by Politico:

“It is hard to believe that at a time when even the most vulnerable in our society are unable to obtain H1N1 vaccinations, the government is sending doses to private firms on Wall Street,” Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “People are frustrated by the government’s response to this crisis, and with news like this, who can blame them? “

“Vaccines should go to people who need them most, not people who happen to work on Wall Street,” said Dodd, who’s also readying financial reform legislation that Wall Street won’t like.

And more from the Politico story:

News reports of that large, private employers in New York City – including Wall Street banks – and been sent of the scarce H1N1 vaccines set of a feeding frenzy Thursday. The Service Employees Union International jumped into the fray early, issuing a public call for the Wall Street fat cats to donate their doses to public hospitals.

“It’s bad enough that Wall Street crashed our economy and is back to paying out platinum bonuses after taking trillions in taxpayer-funded bailouts and backstops. But purposely endangering the health of millions of Americans during a public health crisis crosses all lines of decency,” the union’s secretary-treasurer Anna Burger said in a statement.

Ouch.

Anyway, this story ain’t done yet.

Joe Weisenthal, writing on businessinsider.com, reports that the House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee will hold hearings on Nov. 18.

Let’s hope that if the Wall Street Wizards testify they have the sense to cover their mouths if they cough.

Swine Flu and Mandated Sick Days

I guess if (when?) I get the swine flu I’ll just stay home. Hey, I do that most days anyway. Not everyone is so fortunate. The fact that many people — including many single parents — have to make a decision about going to work sick or not getting paid is triggering discussion about an important issue: mandated sick days and time off the job. And it’s controversial — especially from the standpoint of many small-business owners.

It is also an issue that is starting to gain national news coverage — and legislative interest. Here’s from a NYT article by Steven Greenhouse, “Lack of Paid Sick Days May Worsen Flu Pandemic“:

Public health experts worried about the spread of the H1N1 flu are raising concerns that workers who deal with the public, like waiters and child care employees, are jeopardizing others by reporting to work sick because they do not get paid for days they miss for illness.

Tens of millions of people, or about 40 percent of all private-sector workers, do not receive paid sick days, and as a result many of them cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. Even some companies that provide paid sick days have policies that make it difficult to call in sick, like giving demerits each time someone misses a day.

This causes a dilemma for many employees — and employers. And in that environment, can legislation be far behind? From the NYT article:

Many worker groups and women’s groups have seized on the H1N1 pandemic to argue that Congress should enact legislation guaranteeing paid sick days. San Francisco and Washington have enacted such legislation, but similar measures face obstacles in Congress.

“Sometimes you talk about legislation in the abstract, but this is making people begin to understand the problem,” said Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and lead sponsor in the House of a bill, with more than 100 co-sponsors, that would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven paid sick days a year.

Business groups oppose such legislation, calling it expensive and unnecessary. They say that employers already allow and even encourage sick employees to stay home.

“The vast majority of employers provide paid leave of some sort,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor at the United States Chamber of Commerce. “The problem is not nearly as great as some people say. Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees.”

If you were sick with swine flu — or whatever — would you stay home if it meant not getting paid?

I’ve never had to make that decision. Others do.

Stay tuned. This is an issue that isn’t going away — even after the swine flu emergency is just a memory.

The Swine Flu Follies

Why is it that every time I am in a room these days and hear someone cough I figure I am going to get the swine flu? (Oops — R2-D2). Sheesh.

OK. I know that this isn’t a laughing matter. Many people are sick with the flu, or flu-like symptoms. Some deaths (I saw a figure of around 600 in an AP story) have been reported throughout the country — with younger adults, children and pregnant women particularly at risk. And unless the potential for serious illness has been grossly overblown, we’re in for a tough few months.

So why is there so much confusion about all this? And why do so many people — myself included — have reservations about getting a swine flu shot?

Interesting public health — and communications — challenge here.

Here’s the view from my little world.

My doctor isn’t even scheduling shots for the seasonal flu until the end of October. Yet, I read in the Akron Beacon Journal that hospitals in the Akron/Canton communities where I live are restricting visitors “to protect patients from influenza.” Gulp. That many people have the flu already? (Full disclosure: I raced down to a local pharmacy and got a seasonal flu shot. No point waiting for my doc if things are that bad at local hospitals and getting worse? Are they? Hmm.)

And like most everyone, I’ve had plenty of opportunity by now to learn everything there is to know about swine flu. I take the Sunday dead-tree editions of both the Akron Beacon Journal and The Plain Dealer. Last Sunday, it was one swine flu story after the other — with the same stories in both papers.

Yet I still have no clue about when, where or even if I can get a swine flu shot. No wonder people like me — proud holders of the Ohio Golden Buckeye card – are worried about health-care death panels. I digress.

But here’s the rub.

Given the opportunity, should I get a swine flu shot?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is encouraging everyone to get a swine flu vaccination — opining that it is both necessary and safe. Here’s from an Associated Press story, “Sebelius: Americans must get swine flu vaccination“:

Sebelius unconditionally vouched for the safety of the vaccine, saying it ”has been made exactly the same way seasonal vaccine has been made, year in and year out.”

Appearing on morning news shows to step up the Obama administration’s campaign for vaccinations, Sebelius said that ”the adverse effects are minimal. … We know it’s safe and secure. … This is definitely is a safe vaccine for people to get.”

Yet many aren’t so sure.

Another Associated Press story reports that parents are “opposing the swine flu vaccine” with as many as 38 percent in an AP poll saying they were unlikely to give permission for their kids to be vaccinated in school.

Oh, yeah. In the ’70s I got a swine flu shot — and I was sick for days. Not rolling around in the mud, oinking sick. But sick.

Decisions. Decisions.

What should I do? What should I do?

Not sure.

And what will you do? For yourself — and if you have children?

Hey, nobody said communication — and decisions — on these and most issues is easy.

Swine Flu and Pigskin

base_mediaWonder if someone is going to attach a Purell dispenser to the goalposts at Ohio Stadium? Or if a sousaphone player will have to display a Handi Wipe before dotting the “i” in Script Ohio?

I don’t know why I worry about these things. But I do. And here’s what got me started.

Yesterday I had my yearly eye exam. (Yes, I can finally see again after the bout with dilated pupils.) And actually the exam got off to a rocky start. Here’s why.

The doc came in the room and I reached out to shake his hand. Big mistake.

Doc: “Don’t shake hands any more because of swine flu.”

Me: “Well, if you have swine flu, I’ll reschedule.”

Not even a smile or a chuckle. And OK. I admit. Not quite a LOL moment.

But I wonder if this is where we are headed for the next few months (years?). No handshakes, high-fives, pecks on the cheek to strangers at the grocery store and so on? Maybe so.

The Akron Beacon Journal reported this morning (via a Columbus Dispatch article by Tom May) that the Ohio State Buckeyes are “giving up shaking hands out of fear of catching flu.”

Oh, mama. Swine flu and pigskin.

This doesn’t appear to be a laughing matter — at least to college administrators, coaches and players.

And some newspapers now are adding to reports of team injuries by providing a “flu update.”

OK. I’m not taking lightly the potential for a major health problem caused by swine flu. (I can’t remember the official name. Is it R2-D2? Sorry.) Many — students and others — have already been sick with flu and some deaths have been reported recently and last spring. Others are at risk. And even with a vaccine available in October, many will face serious flu and need treatment.

And this situation represents a challenge to public health officials and many others, including communicators. How do you encourage a “measured” level of prevention, without scaring people to the point where they are afraid to shake hands in a doctor’s office and where they hug the Purell dispenser like they do a toilet after an all-night kegger?

So in spirit of public service — and in an effort to save football season — here’s advice from Dr. Oz about how to prevent getting the swine flu.

I’m off now to wash my hands.

Swine Flu and Star Wars

Whew. Swine flu is history. Well, OK. Maybe, maybe not. But Prez O and federal health officials are rebranding it: H1N1 flu. Wasn’t that the name of one of the droids in an early Star Wars flick?

Well, no. The droid was R2-D2. My bad. But the movie was Star Wars Episode 1: The Phanton Menace.

With luck, the Phanton Menace will aptly describe the current scare about swine flu. (Oops, H1N1.) Let’s hope so. Clearly this does have the potential to be a serious health problem — although right now it seems to me that we are creating considerable concern in areas where there is no illness. Still, as I mentioned in a prior post, nobody wants to be be standing next to the Prez and hear the words, “Brownie, heck of a job.”

And in the midst of the health warnings, this may very well be a marketing opportunity. Hey, the economy can use all the help we can give it. (News note: Chrysler scheduled to go pork-belly up today. Sorry about that.)

For instance, an article in the Wall Street Journal online reports:

As fears of swine flu spread, companies ranging from soap and hand-sanitizer manufacturers to makers of designer face masks are ramping up their marketing efforts, mostly pitching prevention messages starring their products.

Note to self: Don’t even think about a designer face mask.

OK. So maybe some increased sales of soap. And maybe a sales boost for designer face masks. (Is there really a market for designer face masks short of a flu epidemic?) But wouldn’t the real money go to the marketing firm that gets the gig to rebrand swine flu as H1N1? That doesn’t strike me as an easy sell. So at a minimum it is going to require focus group research, message framing and development, field testing, ad buys, media placements and the full range of viral (no pun intended) marketing offered by social media platforms these days.

Wow. Add all that up and there is some potentially big bucks involved. And for all I know the money is available via the recently passed economic stimulus plan — dubbed “porkulus” by Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin and a host of others.

Oink. Oink.

Swine Flu and Risk Communication

It was mid-60s in NE Ohio at 5 a.m. when I hit the concrete for my daily five-miler. And I was thinking again this morning how quickly our national attention shifts from story to story, event to event. Remember a few weeks ago when we were heading to the hardware stores in search of pitchforks, the better to prod the Wizards of Wall Street into some thoughtful (ethical?) action. Now we’re in the queue at pharmacies stocking up on surgical masks and Therma Flu.

So consider this.  Obama was in Mexico a few weeks ago, and I don’t recall reading or hearing anything then about swine flu? Maybe there is just too much information these days. Can’t keep track of it all. Or is it possible that no elected or public health official in Mexico knew about this during Obama’s visit? Or didn’t they want to take the edge off the visit with this less-than-favorable news? Or was the national news media that accompanies the Prez too busy tweeting about Oprah?

Even given that Mexico is  third-world country in the midst of a drug war you would figure that an outbreak of swine flu would be, ah, news. Particularly if someone is coughing in the direction of the Prez. So right off the bat credibility is an issue for me here. Who knew what — and when? I haven’t heard good or even plausable answers to that yet. And maybe we won’t since this story is gaining visibility and Big Mo. I was watching CNN last night and fully expected Wolf Blitzer to cut away to Lou Dobbs rolling around in mud and oinking. I digress.

But here’s the rub — and it is a tough one from the standpoint of communication. How do you effectively communicate the nature and extent of risk? I really believe this is one of the most difficult challenges for communication professionals — and in this case elected and public health officials. You don’t want to raise public concerns to the point of panic. Yet you have to prepare the public for what could be a serious — potentially deadly — situation. And nobody these days wants his or her resume to include: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

And the dilemma in managing risk communication played itself  out on the front page of the Akron Beacon Journal this morning (deadtree edition). Two stories:

Headline No. 1: “Global group raises swine flue alert level

Key points: Epidemic entering extremely dangerous phase. Number of infected mushrooming. “At this time containment is not a feasible option.” Ugh. OK.

Headline No. 2: “Local health officials monitor virus, urge public to stay calm

Key points: Be prepared but not panicked. Ugh. OK.

Again, tough communication challenge here — and as with most matters, it helps to start with some credibility. Then, here are some guidelines as prepared by the U.S. Public Health Service a decade ago:

Figure 1. Principles of Risk Communication

There are seven cardinal rules for the practice of risk communication, as first expressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several of the field’s founders:

  1. Accept and involve the public as a legitimate partner.
  2. Plan carefully and evaluate your efforts.
  3. Listen to the public’s specific concerns.
  4. Be honest, frank, and open.
  5. Coordinate and collaborate with other credible sources.
  6. Meet the needs of the media.
  7. Speak clearly and with compassion.

Source: Seven Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication. Pamphlet drafted by Vincent T. Covello and Frederick H. Allen. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, April 1988, OPA-87-020.

And by the way, I think I’m still sick from the swine flu shot I got in the mid-70s.

Oink.

Perception: Kent State and Swine Flu

Gee, what happened to my proclamation of a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” weekend? I leave the conn of my digital communications empire for a day and we have a riot in Kent, Ohio, and the spread of swine flu. Don’t you long for the good old days when all we had to worry about was $4-a-gallon gasoline?

What’s this have to do with communication — and perception? Well, a lot, actually.

The Saturday night riot in Kent — off-campus as best I can tell — serves to reinforce what Kent State University is best known for: events that led to the killing of four students on campus May 4, 1970.  And no amount of crisis management or communications (or marketing dollars) works here since the perception about Kent State is too firmly entrenched. That’s why this incident gains national and even international attention way beyond what it merits in terms of news.

It even made The Huffington Post with this as the key graph:

It was the first violent clash between Kent State students and police in years. In 1970, four Kent State students were killed by Ohio National Guard troops during a campus protest of the invasion of Cambodia.

C’mon. Give us a break. What does the university say or do to get beyond that last sentence?

By the way, Bill Sledzik on his ToughSledding blog has an interesting take on how this story was covered by student journalists and via Twitter.

Then there is the outbreak of swine flu. Good grief. I’m still sick from the vaccine I took for the swine flu scare in the mid-1970s. But here’s reality.

Post-Katrina and post-9/11, our goverment leaders have to react — and react quickly and decisively — to these type of situations. That’s why the United States declared a “public health emergency.” And now the government — and public health officials — are faced with one of the most difficult communications challenges: defining and explaining in a thoughtful way just how much risk there actually is or could be.

I’m scheduled to fly to DC next week on a Continental shuttle out of Cleveland. Oh boy. Sure hope the person next to me is sneezing and coughing.

Don’t worry, be happy. Ugh. It’s Monday.