Welcome to the latest edition of Haymarket Media’s Coronavirus Briefing.

Today we investigate the first trials of a COVID-19 vaccine, which are underway but will take some time to be tested, approved and expedited. In the meantime, we discover how people are dealing with the reality of contracting the disease and the true nature of working from home. But, encouragingly, we find many developments where people are stepping up to the plate to combat the negative consequences of this pandemic. 

Today’s version is 1,570 words and will take you five minutes to read. Register for the newsletter here.

Social networks must do more to counter health misinformation, the WHO says. (Photo credit: Remains/Getty Images)

1. The first human trial for a COVID-19 vaccine is underway

A vaccine for the coronavirus is the Holy Grail for scientists and the production of a successful drug would be a tipping point in the fight against the disease that has quickly spread across most of the world and brought normal life to a grinding halt.  

MM&M’s Alison Kanski reported that three pharmaceutical companies have this week launched the first human clinical trials of experimental COVID-19 treatments. 

It usually takes at least 18 months for vaccines to go through proper process before they can be deployed. But these are abnormal circumstances and the Food and Drug Administration is expediting any coronavirus vaccine approval using pathways such as Emergency Use Authorization.

One vaccine trial is being conducted by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health in the Seattle area. About 45 participants will be enrolled within six weeks and given two doses of the vaccine in the upper arm about 28 days apart. They will be monitored for a year after the doses. Moderna could act fast because it was already working on a vaccine for SARS and MERS, other members of the coronavirus family.

MPR’s Brian Park provided more in-depth detail of the study, quoting National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, MD: ““Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with SARS-CoV-2 is an urgent public health priority. This phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal.”

The second trial is for a treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients developed by Sanofi and Regeneron that is evaluating rheumatoid arthritis treatment Kevzara in patients with COVID-19. 

The drug may slow the overactive inflammatory response in the lungs caused by the virus, according to the companies. This double-blind trial of 400 participants will begin at 16 medical centers in New York.

The Takeaway:

While the speed with which these clinical trial processes have been expedited by the FDA is encouraging, the treatments are still at the experimental stage and participants will have to be monitored for a year after their doses, so the prospect of having a workable, safe vaccine in place before the end of this year is unlikely. Getting a vaccine to market is a long, complicated and expensive process.


2. Cannes Lions is latest high-profile live event to be canned

It wasn’t unexpected, given the havoc coronavirus has wreaked in Europe and elsewhere. But when Cannes Lions organizers officially announced the postponement of this year’s International Festival of Creativity on Wednesday, it nonetheless hit the advertising industry hard, Lindsay Stein reported in Campaign US. The festival is now set to run from October 26-30. Campaign’s Oliver McAteer reported yesterday that Ascential, the parent company behind Cannes Lions, had instructed its people to work from home pending an imminent decision on the festival’s immediate future.

In a statement, managing director of Cannes Lions Simon Cook said: “Our community is facing unprecedented challenges and collaboration has never been more important. We are focused now on planning the festival – and our beating heart, the Lions – to ensure our community is able to recognise the extraordinary work it contributes to business, organisations and society.”

The Cannes postponement follows the cancellation of this year’s South by Southwest festival, with an economic impact of around $350 million to the city of Austin, TX. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the E3 video game expo in Los Angeles also fell by the wayside, due to the coronavirus crisis.

The Takeaway:

It’s a tough pill to swallow. Ad agencies and marketers rely on the status bestowed by Cannes recognition to generate new business and attract A-list talent. And hanging out in the south of France for a week indulging in top-grade food and beverage isn’t exactly the type of experience that can be replicated in quarantine. Here’s hoping the postponement is just that: a temporary delay, rather than a prelude to cancellation.

3. Adversity brings out the best in people

Everyone is getting used to a world where large swathes of people are working from home and social distancing is the watchword. This has negative implications for everything from bar, hotel and restaurant workers to small businesses to tourism to those reliant on trade shows, conferences and exhibitions for their livelihood.

There are occasional bad actors, such as the individual who tried to sell Carnival Cruise Lines chief communications officer Chris Chiames the domains coronacruiseship.com and coronaviruscruiseship.com. Chiames told PRWeek US’ Diana Bradley (subscription) the LinkedIn user said these web addresses could help the beleaguered cruise company “manage the narrative around the pandemic.”

But many people are displaying their philanthropic side to combat the effects of COVID-19:

  • St. Patrick’s Day was subdued this year as most bars were shut, so Jameson Irish Whiskey announced it is pledging $500,000 to the United States Bartenders’ Guild and is also matching every dollar pledged by the public, up to $100,000, to the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program.
  • Small businesses are among the hardest hit by the pandemic and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg announced the social network is setting up a $100 million grant program for 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries. It’s creating new virtual training modules and made its Business Hub service available for all.
  • Campaign US describes how digital media advertising company Firefly is donating its vehicle-mounted displays to provide public health messaging around COVID-19 to residents of cities where it operates, using its street-level network.
  • The Chartered Institute of Public Relations, a trade body for the U.K. PR industry, is offering members a 3-month holiday on membership dues, reports PRWeek (subscription).
  • The most important development is one previewed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who said Tuesday the government is considering sending every American a check in the next two weeks to support them financially during the crisis, with a figure of $1,000 signaled to GOP senators. Mnuchin said deferred tax payments could also be in the pipeline.

The Takeaway:

The only way we will get through this is if everyone looks out for each other, on a personal, company, federal and government basis. We especially have to consider those elderly living alone and those working in vital professions such as healthcare, supermarkets and delivery drivers.

reality of work from home

4. Dealing with the reality of working from home

The enforced imposition of WFH arrangements caused by the emptying out of cities may lead to a tipping point in attitudes to flexible working as everyone gets to experience it. But tell that to a family trying to survive 24/7 in a small house with kids at home all day who have to be kept amused and now even home schooled, while still trying to keep up with the day job. There isn’t even any sport to watch as a distraction.

Companies are being creative to keep people sane and engaged. 

  • Campaign US reports that advertising group Havas is bringing meditation to the masses via its Creative Consciousness weekly employee meditation and kundalini sessions on Instagram Live on Mondays and Tuesdays from 4:00-5:00pm ET. “It’s important during this difficult time of social distancing to still build up our community,” says a memo from Havas to staff.
  • #KeepCalmandGetReadytoGarden – In the U.K., the Chelsea Flower Show may have been canceled but Horticulture Week’s Matthew Appleby reports that garden centers are encouraging people to use the newly enforced time at home as an opportunity to double down on a bit of gardening. It is seeking to promote flower buying through social media campaigns, noting that gardening cheers people up and keeps them active. 

The Takeaway:

People need to stay home if we are to see out the COVID-19 crisis successfully. Reddit co-founder – and Mr. Serena Williams – Alexis Ohanian even bought billboards in Times Square encouraging those who are still out and about to stay home. We will all need help developing coping strategies to make these enforced periods of captivity bearable.

That’s all for today’s briefing.