Amazon (NSDQ:AMZN) has offered to help with vaccine distribution. Google (NSDQ:GOOG) plans to use some of its U.S. properties as vaccination sites and offering free ad space to public health officials. Airbnb (NSDQ:ABNB) wants to establish “vaccine depots” in areas with poor healthcare access, wrote Christopher Lehane, the company’s senior vice president for global policy and communications, in a letter to HHS. Facebook has offered to donate $120 million to public health agencies and vowed to crack down on vaccine misinformation.
As companies like Amazon offers to streamline the vaccine logistics, the Biden White House aims to accelerate vaccination efforts in the coming months.
Amazon could be well placed to offer help. The company poured $44 billion into its logistics capacity in 2020 alone in an effort to offer one-day shipping for many items.
But there could be potential hurdles in the partnership between tech firms and the new administration. Biden criticized tech companies during his campaign, arguing that Amazon didn’t pay enough taxes. He also signaled his support for antitrust enforcement involving tech companies.
But tech companies have an ongoing campaign to influence the Biden administration, as Reuters has noted.
COVID-19 may prove useful to that end, said Reed Stephens, a partner at the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP. “In addition to the typical goal of U.S. businesses wanting to maintain harmonious relationships with government regulators and congressional sources of oversight, technology companies that are consumer-facing, whether directly or through an extended supply chain, also have strong incentive right now to help the overall effort to bring the pandemic under control,” Stephens said.
“A tech alliance with the federal government fits into the Biden administration’s plan to bring more problem solvers to the table,” added Winston Kirton, also a partner at Winston & Strawn.
Tech companies are a natural ally when it comes to using “data analytics as a tool in the fight against this pandemic and the government’s focus on technology to address the present and any future public health emergencies,” Kirton added.
There are likely other business-related reasons behind the potential alliance between big tech and the U.S. government. Google and Amazon were “already expanding in the life sciences arena well before the pandemic,” Kirton observed.
And tech companies offering help with vaccine distribution can also use the goodwill they develop to drum up business, according to Troy Groetken, a shareholder at the intellectual property law firm with McAndrews, Held & Malloy. “I think the real goal is [tech companies] want to illustrate to the federal government that they can not only be a partner with vaccine distribution, but they can also be a business partner in so many other ways,” Groetken said. “They also want to show they can be good corporate citizens.”
There are pros and cons for such alliances, Groetken stressed. Tech companies could improve efficiencies and trim deployment costs, but such public-private partnerships also can lead to conflicts of interest. “From a regulatory perspective, ethics perspective and conflicts perspective, is this really the best way to go?” Groetken asked. “I think it has to be done very carefully. I think that we have to utilize their systems and so forth for vaccine distribution, but we have to slow ourselves down.”