NEW YORK Today’s novel H1N1 news scare may very well turn out to be a “boy who cried SARS” scenario, in which all the news hype drives frenzied concern through the American consciousness but never culminates into a sharp rise in demand of products — antivirals, N-95 facemasks, hand sanitizers — potentially leaving suppliers and retailers with more inventory than they know what to do with.
That’s because for every report out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that suggests the sky may in fact soon be falling, those reports are hedged by acknowledgements that the H1N1 virus is just as likely to be innocuous as it is even more deadly.
To be sure, nobody can really predict a possible viral mutation — and whether that mutation will produce more severe or less severe illness — outside of the fact that the possibility for mutation exists. It’s got to be like predicting next week’s weather — which is 90% accurate only half the time.
But this we do know. The government is dedicating significant resources against any worse-case scenarios, including a CDC inclined to keep the public informed through regular press briefings. And unlike SARS, which generally got as close to American citizens as Canada but no further, the novel H1N1 virus continues to course through American communities even today, suggesting there will be an up tic in cases with the coming flu season.
That initial resumption of influenza-like illnesses coupled with regular CDC press briefings is likely to drive quite a bit of news coverage in the coming months, news coverage that will significantly drive awareness around the issue. And that suggests that many more Americans will be interested in flu vaccines this year, certainly more than the 40% of the recommended group who were inoculated last year. It also suggests that more and more Americans will be interested in taking CDC-recommended preventative measures such as using hand sanitizers (though demand around N-95 facemasks, which are not recommended for general use by CDC, may not be as great).
So retailers and suppliers should prepare for an interesting season, arming their healthcare professionals with information and stocking their shelves with the appropriate merchandise, because while nobody can predict whether the coming storm will produce scattered showers or fist-sized hail, you can rest assured something will be falling out of that sky.