Feb 16, 2021 - Economy & Business

CEOs search for a bigger role in getting America vaccinated

Illustration of a syringe in an open briefcase
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

CEOs — more trusted than government — want a larger role in what may be the biggest countrywide undertaking of our lifetimes: the mass rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

The big picture: A slew of big businesses are offering up the resources they have, including technical expertise and physical space. But there's no coordinated effort at the federal level to tap the full potential of the private sector’s muscle.

What they're saying: Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells Axios there's an "overwhelming desire" from businesses to help with the vaccine rollout.

  • "It extends from those already involved with logistics and production to retailers, financial services companies. They're all saying, 'What can we do to help get to the goal of getting everyone vaccinated?'"

Where it stands: Amazon and the NFL have pitched services and resources to the White House to help at the federal level. And national pharmacy chains will be instrumental in vaccine distribution as supplies increase and more of the population becomes eligible.

  • Otherwise, though, businesses’ involvement is largely sporadic and primarily local or regional.

In Washington state, Microsoft offered to help run the state's online vaccine dashboard, while Starbucks is providing advice on how to model vaccination sites and Costco is assisting with delivery logistics — all with the aim of getting shots in arms faster.

  • In North Carolina, Honeywell launched a venture — alongside Atrium Health and billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper, to build a pre-vaccination questionnaire app and stand up two mass vaccination sites at stadiums in Charlotte.
  • So far, they’ve administered 35,000 doses and attracted interest from other states as well as the Biden administration, the company tells Axios.

"You have companies who are saying, 'Oh, you can use my facility.' That's great for the local community, but it doesn't solve the broader problem," Susan Collins, the head of health care services at Twilio, tells Axios.

  • Health facilities in western Michigan used Twilio's messaging software to manage vaccination scheduling.

Yes, but: Private industry involvement may not be a save-all. A centralized vaccination-appointment system developed by Deloitte has been plagued with issues. Plus, the private sector can only do so much, given sensitivity around health information.

  • Varying state and local rules about who’s eligible for vaccines have also made it harder for national chains to get involved, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said last month.
  • "What we're advocating for and hoping for is that the Biden administration might come along and clear some of those things up, make some decisions like 65 and over nationwide is eligible. And if that occurs that could unlock more potential,” he said.

There's one big way businesses can help — encouraging their own employees to get vaccinated.

  • Target is the latest to promise frontline workers up to two hours of pay per vaccine dose, joining a growing list of big employers who say they will do the same.

Go deeper: Cities and counties are largely left to stand up vaccination websites on their own

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