Amazon is offering Biden a hand distributing the Covid vaccine

Amazon’s offer to help the Biden administration distribute the Covid-19 vaccine isn’t entirely selfless.
Amazon’s offer to help the Biden administration distribute the Covid-19 vaccine isn’t entirely selfless.
Image: Reuters/Alex Gallardo
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Joe Biden faces a number of urgent challenges in his first days as the new US president, but one certain to receive high priority is managing the ongoing rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. The process so far has not gone smoothly, and states have vaccinated just a fraction of the population expected.

Amazon says it can help.

In a letter to the president obtained by NBC news, Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s global retail business, offered the company’s assistance in the vaccination effort. While the proposal may well be sincere, it’s not entirely selfless.

As Clark points out, Amazon has more than 800,000 employees in the US, and most are essential workers who need to be present at Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses, data centers, and Whole Foods stores to do their jobs. In his letter, he proposes these workers receive the Covid-19 vaccine “at the earliest appropriate time” and says it will assist in the effort.

It wouldn’t be the worst start to getting more Americans vaccinated, and Amazon, of course, has a clear interest in ensuring its workforce remains healthy. Early in the pandemic, the company at times struggled to prevent its workers from getting sick, with some even staging walkouts because they felt Amazon hadn’t done enough to keep them safe. The issues contributed to stumbles in Amazon’s famously efficient operations. In October, the company revealed that nearly 19,816 of its workers had tested positive or were presumed positive for Covid-19.

Clark also said Amazon could leverage its “operations, information technology, and communications capabilities and expertise” in the broader effort to vaccinate Americans. Some supply chain experts, such as Nada Sanders, a professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University, have suggested Biden enlist logistics expertise from Amazon in overseeing distribution of the vaccine because of the company’s ability to manage and quickly deliver inventory. Amazon, meanwhile, likely wouldn’t mind getting on the good side of the Biden administration as it continues to fend off antitrust investigations by federal agencies.

It’s unclear just how effective Amazon might be in speeding up the mass vaccination of Americans. Some of the factors that have slowed the process include staffing issues at local hospitals and technological issues that make it hard for the federal government and states to efficiently share information. Amazon may also be great at getting toothpaste or groceries from a warehouse to a customer but moving vaccines requires specialized ultra-low temperature freezers.

But if the Biden administration decides it does want Amazon’s help, the company says it’s ready.