A new president takes on one of the biggest vaccine challenges in history

January 21, 2021, 10:52 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday. It’s safe to say he has his work cut out for him.

Well before his inauguration, Biden had made it clear that he would take an aggressive approach to tackling the COVID pandemic.

Just today, his first full day in office, the president announced more details on how the administration hopes to secure more protective equipment for health care workers, encourage reluctant Americans to get a COVID vaccine (to the tune of 100 million doses delivered in 100 days), and build out the necessary infrastructure to achieve all of those lofty goals. If you’re really bored, you can wade through the nearly-200 page plan here.

Of course, plans such as these are meant to set goals and shape agendas. Delivering a policy message during an outbreak is undoubtedly important, but whether or not it actually works out is an entirely different story which will rely on the collaboration between private and public entities.

I actually had the pleasure of discussing some of these issues on our latest Fortune Brainstorm podcast about the vaccine rollout. The conversation was focused on the data-related and technological failures which have led to the dismally low rate of Americans to actually receive available doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines thus far.

It’s not a knock on the multiple industries involved in this Herculean endeavor. The fact that we even have viable vaccines this quickly is stunning.

But the supply chain bottlenecks and social messaging roadbumps are real, and they’ll need to be addressed if we truly want enough people in America to achieve herd immunity.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee


Amazon's new COVID vaccine offer. A number of companies, including Amazon, are praising the Biden administration's announced plans to turn the tide of the coronavirus pandemic (noting the logistics caveats mentioned above). In Amazon's case, the firm says it wants to lend a helping hand on the vaccination rollout itself. "We are prepared to leverage our operations, information technology and communications capabilities and expertise to assist your administration’s vaccination efforts,” wrote Dave Clark, the soon-to-be CEO of Amazon's retail unit, in a letter flagged by Reuters. "Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately." Those are big words. But the reality is that informatics will be critical to keeping track of everything from vaccine allocation to distribution strategies to just general information for the public. (Fortune)


Pay to vaccinate? Here's one to keep an eye on. CNBC's Carl Quintanilla reports, citing Reuters, that two major food companies are planning to pay their workers to get vaccinated against COVID. As in, shell out $100 to U.S.-based workers who actually get a vaccine. The companies in question are meatpacker JBS USA and chicken company Pilgrim's Pride Corp. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise given how delicate of a job managing the masses' food can be, even without a pandemic. Heck, even without a pandemic there can be serious health implications for improper management of food and the personnel who handle it. But the strategy raises underlying questions of how many people are willing to get vaccinated, and what may nudge them toward that decision.


COVID and the flu. One of the most interesting questions I got from friends and colleagues at the start of the pandemic was whether or not public health safety measures against COVID would affect the flu season. After all, wearing masks, washing your hands, socially distancing, and staying at home can disrupt pretty much all pathogens, not just the highly contagious coronavirus. As it turns out, that's exactly what's happening when it comes to influenza, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And it's not just an American phenomenon, it's happening across the globe. In the U.S., the CDC reports that positive flu test results across nearly 26,000 samples was miniscule at less than one-half of 1% compared with as much as 26% in previous years. (Wall Street Journal)


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