Should retail prepare for a vaccine resistant virus?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/legna69
Aug 06, 2021

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said last week during a media briefing that the large numbers of people walking around unvaccinated against COVID-19 not only make it more likely that hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise but also more likely a variant will arise that even vaccinations are unable to stop.

The bad case scenario described by Dr. Walensky could be “just a few mutations away” from where the world finds itself now with the Delta variant.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci echoed similar warnings this week about the rise of a more deadly virus strain, with cases in the U.S., primarily of the Delta variant, quickly moving closer to 100,000 a day as misinformation about vaccines continues to be spread through social media and other outlets.

“We’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness. We’re very fortunate that that’s the case. There could be a variant that’s lingering out there that can push aside Delta,” Dr. Fauci told the McClatchy news service.

“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he said. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else.”

The Lambda variant, which was first detected last year in Peru, has made its way to the U.S. with just under 2,000 cases confirmed to date.

A recent study by Japanese scientists found the Lambda variant to be highly transmissible while also showing signs of being more resistant to current vaccines on the market. The research paper, which appeared on the bioRxiv database of preprinted studies that have yet to be peer reviewed or published in recognized journals, found variations in three spike proteins that attach to human immune cells and make it harder for vaccines to work.

Medical science may be able to keep pace with Lambda and other variants, but what happens after that? Retail scenario planners tasked with identifying potential threats and to determine business responses may have only a couple of years to chart a response. Will the industry be ready if that happens?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do retailers and brands need to be actively engaging in scenario planning to anticipate what they will need to do if COVID-19 cases continue to spread and vaccine resistant strains become dominant? Should retailers be more aggressive now than they are currently when it comes to vaccinations, mask wearing and other practices to stop the spread of COVID-19?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"If the past 18 months have taught us anything it's that disaster plans should be in place for all brands. Full stop."
"Overall, our data tells us that too many retailers have no disaster recovery plans in place."
"Retailers should recognize they are in the midst of a fight for the lives of their customers."

Join the Discussion!

25 Comments on "Should retail prepare for a vaccine resistant virus?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ken Morris
BrainTrust

We need to be prepared for the future variant strains. We are not out of this by a long shot. We need to move in a direction that prepares us for the inevitable. BOPIS and BOPAC are key to store survival. MFCs need to be planned. Dark stores, ghost kitchens and variable delivery options need to be explored now while we still have time. The anti-vaccine tribe needs to wake up and inoculate. Polio, smallpox and the like — there was never any question. How did this become political?

Martin Whitmore
Guest

Sadly the answer here is obvious. Retailers absolutely should be proactively preparing for the many variants that seem to be coming on a daily basis. I think clear, consistent policies from retailers would make it much less confusing for the customer. Switching back and forth from masks required to no masks required only adds to the confusion and concern.

More importantly it is vital to get complete reporting about the spread. It’s one thing to say that we had XXX more cases yesterday, but how about expanding that reporting to how many of those cases are asymptomatic or very mild?

George Anderson
Staff

Not sure I understand your last point. Aren’t asymptomatic cases just as worrying, perhaps even more so, since they can be spread to others unaware they are in close proximity to an infected person?

Martin Whitmore
Guest

My point is this could reduce some of the hysteria around the positive rates rising and may make more people see the value of being vaccinated. If 90% of cases are asymptomatic because those people were vaccinated, it would point to the importance of being vaccinated.

George Anderson
Staff

Thanks for the clarification. I thought in reading your post that people who are looking for reasons to avoid being vaccinated would use the reporting of large numbers of asymptomatic or mild cases to further justify not getting shots.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

The reality today is that unforeseen risks and unpredictability will be the norm going forward. Brands and retailers who don’t invest in omnichannel optimization won’t make it. As proof you just need to look at those who implemented omnichannel initiatives like BOPIS, curbside and e-commerce well before COVID-19 to see how these companies were able to maintain or even expand their earnings. Because retail represents such a vast percentage of employment, and is a hub of consumer traffic density, companies in this industry unfortunately bear the brunt of visibility on enforcing masks and vaccines. But the truth is that every company should be doing everything in their power to curb virus mutation and spread.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

If the past 18 months have taught us anything it’s that disaster plans should be in place for all brands. Full stop.

KatieThomasKCI
Guest

Agreed – to me, it’s not about planning for COVID-19 variants – it’s about finally figuring out how to be more adaptable and agile in general. Certainly disaster planning, but even on the smaller scale. “Agility” is a word that we’ve thrown around for a while, but shouldn’t this experience be what pushes retailers to really learn how to change and adapt quickly?

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Retailers, and indeed all firms, should hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Hopefully a vaccine resistant virus will not emerge, but if we have learned one thing from COVID-19, it’s that threats can appear very quickly and be highly disruptive for business. That said, while I am not dismissing the scientific credentials of government officials, I do think they tend towards being extremely gloomy, which in a way they have to be to warn us of what might be ahead. However I think retailers should also plan for better times too. That way, they have both bases covered whatever the trajectory.

Steve Dennis
BrainTrust

All businesses would be wise to accept we live in an increasingly VUCA world: VOLATILE, which requires us to very clearly articulate our VISION; UNCERTAIN, which demands we gather actionable insights; COMPLEX, which compels us to create CLARITY; and, perhaps most importantly, AMBIGUOUS, which requires great AGILITY. The likelihood of more virulent strains means we must develop different scenarios and become fundamentally more agile, flexible and adaptable. We can’t stop the waves, but we can learn to surf!

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

The average daily cases of COVID-19 are topping 100,000 for the first time since early February, when the drive to vaccinate people shifted into high gear. While the evidence suggests that the risk of the Delta variant hits hardest on the unvaccinated, there are plenty of “known unknowns” right now, especially if the protection of full vaccination starts to wear off after six months. Without a clear decision about boosters, the next couple of months could be alarming, and there is not the political will to impose shutdowns again.

Retailers should get back on the mask bandwagon as soon as possible. Even with “mask fatigue,” stores like Target and Costco ought to be moving faster on this front. Vaccine mandates are more controversial, but if Walmart alone mandated vaccination as a condition of employment to all of its hourly associates, we would be about 5 percentage points closer to herd immunity.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

While many retailers were unprepared for the impact of COVID-19 on their business, they are now much better prepared for future pandemic disruptions. With speculation that there could be future variants that are not affected by vaccines, there could potentially be even more restrictive mandates that impact retail. Retailers need to be prepared for the worst case scenarios.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This is not a debate over vaccines, variants, masks, messaging, or group alienation. This is simply risk mitigation that retailers that want to survive or thrive have to account for from supply, staffing, and sales perspectives and need disaster/contingency plans in the same manner as they do for other potentialities like severe weather.

David Spear
BrainTrust

Indeed retailers must stay vigilant and understand the dynamics of these variants and how it can potentially affect their stores in the communities in which they operate. Daily data boards revealing the most up to date trends can help these leaders make the best decisions possible for their employees and the customers they serve. Plan, plan, plan for many different contingencies!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Overall, our data tells us that too many retailers have no disaster recovery plans in place. This is very different from the days when I was a practitioner, and actually leaves board members at risk to lawsuits.

Don’t forget, COVID-19 is only one piece of our current universe. Fires, floods, hurricanes — many things can disrupt businesses. And while those whose businesses are entrusted to cloud computing at least don’t have to worry about hot sites and cold sites, and today’s fast internet connections remove concerns about “where to meet” in the event of disaster, business continuity plans must be in place. In a document.

Masks are the easy answer. And yes, vaccination mandates are a very good idea and, for the short term, mask mandates.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Retail not only needs to think about what to do with a resistant strain, but also how to manage increasingly hostile mask-flaunters. This is the time to run some simulation exercises and determine what additional resources may be needed.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I sincerely hope, as we all do, that will not be the case. I don’t know how we will determine what needs to be done without a current assessment made by specialists, which can’t be made until we know what we are running into. I can’t imagine anything worse in light of the issues of today and our challenges to getting everyone vaccinated.

storewanderer
Guest
2 months 9 days ago

If anything was learned last time – it is that it is probably better to be ahead of the curve this time.

Beef up staffing for online/curbside options and do whatever is possible to make those options more efficient. I hate to say it but cut store hours and fulfill as many online/curbside orders as possible in the morning or evening hours when the store is not open. Stock up on cleaning supplies/soap, and work on distancing.

I know we were told surface contamination is not much of a risk but with new strains everything is back on the table of unknowns again. Bring back all of the distancing, enhanced cleaning, stop letting groups of eight people come into the store shopping, stop letting kids (sometimes barefoot) stand inside shopping carts, start cleaning shopping carts again, prohibit reusable bags, on and on.

RandyDandy
Guest
2 months 9 days ago
I agree that retail, as a whole, should try and institute some sort of plan that considers how this virus, along with the inevitable new strains, might continue indefinitely. However it has to be nuanced from region to region. Much like the country has hardly the same temperament from state to state, or even neighborhood to neighborhood. But as a front-liner, I hope that the last resort is the requirement of said workers to always be the ones to mask up — for their own good and that of customers. Yes, in absolute dire times, it makes great, unarguable sense. When things are allowing for the unvaccinated to go without them in places of business, not so much. You see to do so — to mask up staff — makes them of another class — shall we say, of an underclass. Of those who are already treated not much more than as mere (and lowly) servers. And to strip away their identities further adds to their already being perceived as “less than” those whom they… Read more »
Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

Retailers should recognize they are in the midst of a fight for the lives of their customers. There should be no aggressive steps held back in reserve for when it gets worse, because if it gets worse and the virus mutates, we will be in this national economic mess for another two years or more or whatever time it will take to create, test and distribute a new round of vaccines. Retailers and other businesses should require their workers to be vaccinated now to reduce and eliminate a pandemic of the unvaccinated, which feeds evolution of mutations.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

How about a meteor hit? Or … well, you get the idea: some things you just really can’t “plan” for, at least in any meaningful way.

I’ve hopefully gotten somewhat ahead of myself, as this isn’t quite at that level, but the point remains: there are limits to which many businesses can tolerate disruption and still remain viable. If you can function online, or with WFH or delivery, then that’s what you’ll do, and planning for that possibility makes sense (which is presumably what George is getting at). But if you’re an airline or barber or fine dining restaurant, your options to survive repeated and prolonged disruptions are, frankly, limited.

So should business get more involved to forestall that doomsday from happening? It’s problematic: much as with climate change initiatives (that depend on collective action) acting independently can be a problem if it puts you at a competitive disadvantage. Working toward a better tomorrow means little if you go bankrupt this month.

George Anderson
Staff

Point taken. I suppose I should have use the medium to large qualifier I used in the instant poll for the two questions posed as discussion starters.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I had in mind the criticisms (later) directed against the nuclear war preparedness efforts in the ’50s — was it of any use for something that apocalyptic? — but perhaps that isn’t the best comparison. Hopefully it isn’t! 🙂

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

I suspect most retailers have gone through at least one round of scenario planning after the first wave of Covid-19 hit us. Many have already done the legwork of establishing mandates, limiting customers in the stores, plexiglass, cleaning registers, refusing customers, and of course mask mandates. The policies exist.

For new strains of the virus, it really is a hurry up and wait situation. Retailers can enforce these policies now or hold until government or more authoritative health experts (e.g. CDC) suggest a course of action. For most retailers, they’ll be looking to doctors and scientists who understand the virus, its spread and how it will affect their stores before closing doors again or even imposing a mask mandate.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Reframing the question to “how do you sell consumers without spooking, shocking, or scaring them first?”

Is there any reason to believe Lambda will be the last? Retailers should be planning for the unimaginable. Perhaps the 2021 buzz phrase should be “WHAT IF?”

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If the past 18 months have taught us anything it's that disaster plans should be in place for all brands. Full stop."
"Overall, our data tells us that too many retailers have no disaster recovery plans in place."
"Retailers should recognize they are in the midst of a fight for the lives of their customers."

Take Our Instant Poll

How effective are the vast majority of medium and large retailers when it comes to scenario planning for emergency situations such as those that arrived with COVID-19?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...