Half Empty… Half Full

May 20, 2020

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a World War II Holocaust survivor.  In the midst of the Nazi concentration camp atrocities that took the lives of his wife, parents and brother, he was able to maintain emotional balance by choosing his response… an exercise of a freedom that could not be taken away… freedom to choose his attitude.

I first heard this quote at age 23 in 1976 at the office of my first financial services employer in Worcester, MA.  I was listening to a motivational LP …yes, the 12” disc of black vinyl with the recording pressed in.  The narrator was Earl Nightingale.  I was captivated by his warm, deep voice as much as the messages of positive attitude that he conveyed.  He shared numerous reflective and uplifting truths in his various recordings and books.  This Frankl quote made a deep imprint on my young life, and it has served me well over the decades.

If Frankl and Nightingale were alive today, I believe they would urge us to not allow the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic by the main stream media to take our emotions prisoner, as profoundly difficult as that may be for some.  I believe they would urge us to not allow the daily gyrations of the stock market to draw the life out of our day.  I believe they would encourage us to use our daily energies to work on the things we can control, of which the foundational one is our “attitude in any given set of circumstances.”  Thank you Viktor.

Moderna sprints forward!   On Monday of this week, vaccine biotech Moderna reported very positive results for its Phase 1 human trial: even at low doses, the antibody-building immune response in some of the healthy volunteers was equal to or greater than the antibody levels of people who have recovered from COVID-19.  Implication? If an effective dosage can be one-fifth of original expectation, then manufacturing capacity increases five-fold!  It seems that Moderna may be on track to meet its ambitious timetable to produce millions of doses for possible emergency use by late this year.

But a million is not a billion, which is 1,000 million!  We have more than 7 billion people on the planet.  Fortunately, many other companies are in the race, and we will need many winners to cross the finish line….not just one.  And many of these companies are simultaneously building the manufacturing capacity to make hundreds of millions of doses.

Next challenge?  After confirming a safe and effective vaccine and then building manufacturing capacity, world leaders will need to agree on how to equitably allocate the vaccine around the globe.  When the likely media cacophony emerges, remember Viktor Frankl!

Testing….Testing:  Have I got it?  Have I had it?  Last week, the British Health Service approved a test to find out whether people have been infected with COVID-19 in the past.   The test was developed by the Swiss pharma and diagnostics company Roche.  The results: out of 6,000 blood samples, 100% correct to show if someone had been infected, and 98.8% correct if someone had not been infected.  Why so accurate?  This is not a finger prick test, but an intravenousblood draw.  Bring some cookies and bottled water!

There are hundreds of tests on the market of which many are highly inaccurate.  Less than 12 have received FDA approval as being proven effective.  The Roche test is the one that the U.S. FDA approved for emergency use by New York State in mid-March, and received broader approval in early May.  Governor Cuomo concluded that almost 15% of New Yorkers have the antibodies.

Implication?  Once tens of thousands of Roche tests have been completed, we should conclusively know if upwards of 10 times as many people have been infected without knowing it.  The answers will guide decisions about easing lockdowns for large and small business alike.

Those who test positive for the “I have had it and didn’t know” may have a sense of security, at least for the near term. BUT, since COVID-19 is a new virus, it remains to be seen how long immunity lasts.  Could it just be 6 months like the common cold or the annual flu, a couple of years as estimated for SARS and MERS, or lifetime like the measles? 

States gradually reopening:  What a politically charged issue this has become!  Politics aside, let’s have compassion for those individuals and small businesses who may not have the benefits of unemployment compensation, adequate financial reserves, or the blessing of being able to work from home and continue to receive a paycheck. They are all part of our community, a term that includes the word “unity.”


Richard J. Volpe, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC®, AEP®

Founder and President