Washington taps Starbucks for help with Covid vaccine rollout
Aiming to boost the slow pace of administering Covid-19 vaccines, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday the state has turned to Starbucks for help streamlining logistics and setting a new goal to dole out 45,000 doses a day.
Starbucks has assigned 11 employees with expertise in labor and deployment, operations and research and development to work full time on vaccine distribution in its home state, the company said.
Inslee said the state is also arranging for over 2,000 pharmacies to administer vaccines, and setting up drive-by vaccination sites. Microsoft, another Seattle-based corporation, will also set up a vaccine site to perform 5,000 vaccinations a day, he said.
“This is a unique challenge for the United States and in every state to stand up a total mobilization of our resources,” Inslee said. “We did that in World War II when we built the Liberty ships here in Washington State. We reached production levels that no one could imagine because we set ambitious goals.”
The two vaccines approved for use in the United States are remarkably effective, but the rollout nationwide has been slow since they started rolling out one month ago. Nationwide, 12.2 million people have received one dose of the coronavirus vaccines, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and just 1.6 million have received both doses, among a total population of 330.8 million Americans. The Trump administration had promised to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.
“We can’t think that’s an acceptable pace,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. “So we have to dramatically scale this up and accelerate the progress.”
Inslee, a Democrat, said the state underestimated how difficult it would be to get all health care workers vaccinated quickly before moving on to other populations, and that fewer people signed up for the vaccine than they expected.
“We’re having the same challenges that every state has had because we started on the more difficult part of this — which is a fairly select small group, which is health care workers,” he said. “And in order to identify them and vector them into the sites — that has been a slower part of the process. Now we will start today to open up this to people of age over 65. It is much easier to communicate and coordinate that group to get them in.”
Starbucks started discussions with Washington state about a partnership working on vaccine rollout earlier this month. Washington, which has a population of 7.6 million, just 31,581 people have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine, according to CDC data. This week the state began allowing people over the age of 65 to get vaccinated.
The Starbucks employees assigned to work on vaccine distribution will use the company’s computer system simulation modeling to find ways to expedite inoculations, according to the state and the company. The company and Washington hope the partnership will create an improved vaccine distribution network across the state’s 39 counties and 29 tribal nations.
President-elect Joe Biden said last week he would deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to help set up vaccine clinics across the country to meet a goal of administering 100 million shots in the first 100 days of his term.
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Several states have started working with large pharmacy chains to expand distribution of vaccines to health care workers. Although West Virginia has vaccinated more residents per capita than any other state by working with small, independent pharmacies instead of the big chains.
Several Democratic governors last week, including Inslee, said the Trump administration had misled them on whether there was a national stockpile of Covid-19 vaccines being held for second doses. Inslee said the federal government had told governors there was a strategic reserve.
Inslee said he has much more trust that a Biden administration will do better job distributing vaccines to the states.
“I’m confident we’re going to have a much better relationship,” Inslee said. “That the federal government is not going to consciously deceive us like the last administration did. And so I feel very good about our federal partnership moving forward.”