HHS head, Alex Azar, had it right in suggesting to CNN’s Jake Tapper that the disproportionate amount of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the U.S. are largely attributable to the declining health and susceptibility of many Americans. Azar’s words:
“Unfortunately, the American population is a very diverse… a population with significant unhealthy comorbidities… minority communities particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease health disparities… an unfortunate legacy in our health care system that we certainly do need to address.” Alex Azar, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
COVID-19 has ripped the scab off health inequity in the U.S., exposing highly variable levels of healthcare access. It’s a way of life, an existence for too many, in an environment that systematically promotes weakened immune resiliency, thus affecting the collective human condition.
This health (and economic) crisis will force a recalibration and rethinking of priorities. The critical question is before us: what should value-based disease prevention and health care now look like in service of health creation?
In the 50+ year history of integrative health, this is our moment to influence what comes next. Because…
In the face of COVID-19, and the virulent viruses sure to follow—with untold additional costs—we in the integrative health community have a critical role to play: specifically, the consistent promotion and teachings of robust immunity and resiliency.
COVID-19 Is Our Movement’s Opportunity to Lead
No matter the branch of integrative health your business, clinical practice, or organization is rooted—integrative, functional, regenerative, lifestyle, holistic, antiaging, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Ayurvedic—no area of medicine does a better job of fortifying immune function and resiliency than integrative health.
This is Your Moment
This unparalleled time, with the challenges ahead, delivers a defining opportunity to sow the guiding principles of integrative health across the land.
Regardless of whether your products, programs, or services are generalized or specific to various conditions and chronic pathologies, this is the clarion call for your attention.
Health creation, as an ideal and driving framework, has the potential to turn our current chronic disease Band-Aid model on its head.
Focusing on immune resiliency will help prevent or mitigate the very morbidities that make this first-world country unnecessarily vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 and future outbreaks.
Before I dig further into immune function and resiliency support—the foundational principals of integrative health and lifestyle-directed medicine—let’s set the table.
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An Emerging Picture of Those Most at Risk
Americans hosting the top morbidities and comorbidities are those at the highest risk of infection and death: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, lung impairments such as COPD, and patients undergoing cancer treatment are only a few examples.
We also know that close-quartered living incubates and feeds a highly virulent virus. Vulnerable Americans include: the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living centers; individuals who are incarcerated; people living in food deserts and areas of stark health inequality where support is nonexistent and services are under-delivered—primarily African American and Latino minorities; Indigenous populations living on Native American lands; folks living in the greatest socioeconomically impacted areas; essential workers who come in direct contact with the public every day.
As of May 2020:
- There is no vaccine for COVID-19.
- Some models suggest the majority of us will be infected by COVID-19, at some level, within the next 24 months.
- A safe, efficacious vaccine may come in six months (unlikely), 12-24 months, or never. After all, the common cold is also a coronavirus… and we know how preventatives for that have turned out. An effective vaccine may, like the seasonal flu vaccine, only help a percentage of those who contract Covid-19.
- Some predict COVID-19 is here to stay, at some level, for a long time, much like the common cold, AIDS, measles, and chickenpox are endemic viruses that have not been eradicated.
- It is not known if it is possible to be re-infected after recovery from a first infection.
- A highly accurate antibody test is lacking. Once we have one, it remains unclear if antibodies are fully protective, or for how long.
- We remain in the dark regarding the long-term or permanent, deleterious effects of COVID-19 on major organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs.
- The number of outlier groups of children and adults experiencing heart and other life-threatening symptoms, with some inducing death, is unclear.
- No effective national strategy is in place—or materials and committed human resources—to deliver mass testing, implement contact tracing, or provide requisite isolation on a scale to test and re-test 320M Americans.
Treatment and Vaccine Development Silver Linings?
On the brighter side, we have one FDA approved broad spectrum antiviral treatment in Gilead’s Remdesivir. But this drug is not a cure. Newly published data reveals it had limited benefit for patients who were severely ill.
With an average shortening of recovery time by 30%, Remdesivir is a solid start toward investigating the potential of repurposing existing drugs for off-label use—as we move full bore into the discovery of new, potentially effective treatment agents. Over 100 are being studied.
Moderna’s innovative vaccine development approach suggests—in a small phase 1 study focused on safety—that enough antibodies, even at lower doses, may potentially protect the host from infection. There are also a number of critics who say Moderna’s trial design, and the early data (not peer reviewed or published) it has provided to date, is incomplete.
While this rapid progress could mean a significantly shortened timeline to get to market, a long road of investigation remains. Because of the quantity of vaccines needed, there would likely be a requirement for several vaccines and multiple manufacturers—and it is known that a vaccine is not a one-size-fits-all product.
Integrative Health Must Lead Now on COVID-19 and Immune Resiliency
This is not a trendy window with a short shelf life; it is a crucial, long-term responsibility to seize in this moment and continue indefinitely. Integrative health companies and organizations will be best served building trust with their customers and prospects via the consistent delivery of actionable, educational information on immune resiliency, and the invaluable addition of how to create it.
Since the onslaught of COVID-19, I have spent an enormous amount of time strategizing for FON clients, specific to immune support and resiliency. As health consumers—because we all are—your inboxes and feeds are likely brimming with messages, promotions, and content that speaks to increasing immune function.
Tread carefully and deliberately by building your brand steeped in education, value, and trust. No one wants to be hard-sold on specific purchases and programs, especially during a raging pandemic and economic calamity affecting so many. Be the intelligent, calm leader.
Laying out heavy discounts in this climate will result in a race-to-the-bottom that will only serve to cheapen your brand.
Your Expertise Matters
You are already authorities on immune function and resiliency via nutrition, hydration, movement, stress reduction, well-placed nutraceuticals (see: vitamin D serum levels and correlation to COVID-19), limiting toxins, environmental awareness.
By extension, you and your company or organization are most probably better positioned to deliver this information than most others in your community right now.
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Leverage your knowledge by clearly and consistently articulating the critical importance of creating strong immune function and resiliency, therefore making our community less susceptible to contracting viruses (and myriad chronic conditions).
Restate The Meaning Of Integrative Health
Consumers are easily confused, and bad actors still exist—they are prolific in this unique period. It’s our job to remind folks what ‘integrative’ versus alternative means in the context of COVID-19. That’s because:
Proven vaccines, treatments, and efforts to strengthen immune function and resiliency are not mutually exclusive. It will be wonderful when we have safe and effective vaccine(s) and treatments but, in the here and now, we have no biopharma standard of care for prevention or treatment (notwithstanding Remdesivir) for COVID-19.
Educating about immune resiliency, and the positioning of products and services focused on building immune function, may be the most powerful tools we have to improve the health of our communities, while also improving the fiscal health of your integrative health company or organization.
So Much Unmet Need: YOU are the Solution
Fill the vacuum or someone else will. Become the immune resiliency specialist for your current and prospective clients, members, and constituents.
Ready? Start Now
Media is a good place to begin. It is one powerful tactic to leverage as part of an overarching business development strategy.
Follow these 4 steps to amplify your expertise on all that comprises immune resiliency:
- Understand the difference between earned, paid, owned, and contributed media. Start here.
- Specific to ‘earned media’:
- Create a database of media outlets to which you want to deliver your message—local, regional, and/or national.
- Set up a staffer or hire a virtual assistant to populate a spreadsheet with core information. Include the name of outlet, health writers/editors, name of recurring health column/segment, assignment editors, email addresses, circulation, geographic reach (if local).
- Be sure to include radio, TV (cable/broadcast), newspapers, monthly publications (local, regional, national), and influential web sites and bloggers.
- Create a short press release specific to you/your organization and your position on COVID-19 and immune resiliency. Include your efforts, public activities, products, and services that support this theme.
- Create a pithy introductory email, attach the press release, and proactively follow up within 48 hours by phone.
- Specific to ‘contributed media’, many outlets on your media database from whom you are looking to ‘earn’ media coverage will be amenable to receiving media contribution from your organization. That may be in the form of an article, a recurring column on immune resiliency, or hosting a piece on radio or local television. Explainer: guest = earned media, and host = contributed. Think of earned and contributed media as being interviewed to extract your intellectual content versus you creating and driving your own content to be utilized (distributed and promoted) by the outlet.
- Be prepared. Role play with a colleague or coach. Anticipate questions. Have your responses ready so that they are not reactions.
To the extent possible and practical, always make sure there is a clear call-to-action (ex., ‘To learn more, please visit our website.’) in any earned or contributed media activities so that folks can easily contact your organization.
- This is the time for your expertise to shine.
- There is no current vaccine, and approved drug treatments for COVID-19 are incredibly limited.
- Educating on how to strengthen immune function and resiliency through lifestyle behavioral changes, via myriad tools available through integrative health experts, should be leading the charge across the U.S., and around the globe.
- Two aspects of media, specifically ‘earned’ and ‘contributed’, should be featured in your efforts to engage a larger community through which to educate about the current limitations of COVID-19 therapeutics and the profound protective power of immune resiliency.
FON is a leading integrative health and medicine business development and strategy consulting firm. FON specializes in custom solutions for growing patient volume, developing programs, and increasing product sales. Our practical business models are driven by innovative marketing, clear messaging, and customer engagement via branded storytelling.
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