- By publicly supporting the vaccine rollout, corporate America could help get more people vaccinated.
- Walmart, Disney, Uber, Lyft, the NFL, and others are aiding in vaccine administration and education.
- The Biden administration has also partnered with business groups to urge vaccines and mask-wearing.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Over the last few weeks, Walmart has administered roughly half a million COVID-19 vaccines from its facilities nationwide.
Mass vaccination sites have opened at Disneyland in California and at Yankee Stadium in New York, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell offered all 30 of the league’s stadiums to use as mass vaccination sites.
Uber and Lyft are helping ferry people to their vaccine appointments, and Target will provide paid time off for its employees who want to go get the vaccine.
These efforts represent a new push among America’s business leaders at a crucial moment in time: Their economic futures hinge on people getting the vaccine.
As the vaccine rollout began last year, a predictable issue arose in the US: vaccine skepticism.
Scientific evidence shows the safety and efficacy of vaccines, but there’s still a portion of Americans who believe otherwise. According to Gallup polling, the proportion of those who think vaccines are safe and important to administer has decreased by 10% in the last 20 years.
There’s a segment of the US population who opposes vaccines entirely — a November Gallup poll found that 12% of respondents “don’t trust vaccines in general.”
But there’s a significant percentage that’s skeptical about the coronavirus vaccine in particular, citing rushed development or safety as reasons for not wanting to get the shot. The same poll found that 42% of people said they would not take the coronavirus vaccine if it was free and available to them, compared with 58% who said they would.
As Insider’s Kelly McLaughlin and Yelena Dzhanova reported last last year, experts have been sounding the alarm that anti-vaccination concerns could slow the end of the pandemic, as it could lead to gaps in herd immunity. On the flip side, getting the vaccine could massively reduce the risk of infection: A study in the UK published earlier this week suggested that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine reduces that risk by more than 70%.
All of this places the US in a challenging position: The vaccine is safe and effective, but many Americans don’t believe that. The slow rollout of the vaccine combined with this hesitancy means the US isn’t reaching herd immunity very quickly. That leaves businesses like theme parks and stadiums and restaurants still closed or only partially open — and far away from anything close to a recovery.
But, there’s one hope: By loudly and publicly supporting the vaccine, corporate America could help fuel a return to normalcy.
The vaccine will be a ‘game-changer’ for many businesses
Some CEOs are already realizing this. Walmart CEO John Furner told NBC News’ Today that the company is currently ramping up to administer 13 million doses per month and that he believes Walmart can play an important role in communities that may not otherwise have an easy way to get the vaccine.
Walmart is also providing vaccine education to its employees and publicly espousing the benefits of the vaccine.
“We also think that it’s important that you know that friends or family or peers or others that have gotten the vaccine are open about it,” Furner said during an interview with Today.
Furner said he intends to get the vaccine when it’s his turn and that he encourages his employees to get it too.
Scott Kirby, the CEO of United Airlines — another business that hinges on society returning to some sense of normalcy — said during an employee town hall last month that he not only supports the vaccine, he believes it should be mandatory for United employees.
“The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of coworkers that we have lost to the coronavirus,” Kirby said, according to CNBC’s Leslie Josephs. “And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine – and I recognize it’s controversial – I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.”
United has since said it’s mulling a mandatory vaccination policy, but hasn’t yet put one into effect.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced during the company’s fiscal first-quarter earnings call earlier this month that the company had administered 100,000 vaccine doses at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which hasn’t been open to the public since March of last year.
The park’s closure, along with the suspension of Disney’s cruise business and closures of other parks worldwide, has had a serious impact on Disney’s business: The company said during its earnings call that operating income from its parks experiences and product business declined “significantly” versus the year prior for a loss of $119 million.
Chapek said that if vaccines were available for anyone who wanted them by April of this year, it would be a “game-changer” for Disney, giving people “the confidence that they need to come back to the parks.”
Chapek stopped short of full-throatedly endorsing getting the vaccine, but his message was clear: The vaccine is what’s needed for Disney’s parks to return to any degree of normalcy.
A new Biden administration partnership
Still, a handful of CEOs endorsing the need for a vaccine hasn’t equated to a unified push by American businesses to get the country vaccinated, or even to promote basic health and safety measures. Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, told The New York Times’ David Leonhardt this week that that has something to do with the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
Slavitt said that what companies can do now is help with messaging. Masks and the vaccine have become politicized, but employers might be able to break down some of those barriers, since the message may be received differently coming from your boss than from a politician. He told The Times that companies should be telling employees to wear a mask, avoid crowds, and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.
And we now may start seeing more companies speaking up. The Biden administration announced on Friday a new partnership with business leaders and groups including the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers, as well as leaders from the Black, Latino and Asian business community.
The partnership aims to reach businesses across the country, encouraging them to promote the value of getting the vaccine and wearing a mask. The new partnership will also urge businesses to offer employees bonuses or paid time off for getting the vaccine and mandate masks and social distancing at their establishments.
While the government won’t mandate if and how corporations get involved, it will provide clarity about how they can help — and it seems there’s a lot of interest among US businesses.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with outreach from companies saying, ‘We want to help, we want to help, we want to help,'” Slavitt told The Times. “What a missed opportunity the first year of this virus was.”