Illustration by Sam Papavasiliou

Corporations and Vaccinations

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I spent most of last Monday refreshing the CVS website. The site showed seven days of potential vaccination appointments and four of them were already greyed out. So naturally, I clicked one of the remaining three and then clicked again to schedule a time, except it wouldn’t show any available times. It did this for all three days. One of my coworkers had apparently got in after repeatedly reloading it, so I did the same. After three hours of trying, the site showed only one day left. In my frustration I cursed CVS and their website, but it got me thinking. Why was I making this appointment on CVS’ website to begin with?

Back in October 2020, the Trump administration announced that they had brokered a deal with CVS and Walgreens to distribute the vaccine to seniors in long term care facilities. This deal later expanded to include in-store vaccinations.

Around the same time, the federal government released its guidance on who was going to be first to get the vaccine and in what order the people would follow. This was passed on to county health departments with the understanding that each county would modify it based on their population and who was most at risk. With that being the majority of the guidance counties received, the message from on high seems to be, “Do whatever you think is best, except you must work with CVS or Walgreens.” But what if you don’t think working with a private company is the best way to accomplish a public goal?

Companies exist to make a profit. While they may accomplish other things along the way, the end goal is still to make the most money possible. The vaccine may be free at a CVS or Walgreens, but when you go for your vaccination, you’re still a body through their doors. You could go and only get your vaccine with no additional purchases and that would still be a win for them. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re counting on. From that day forward, that’s no longer just another chain pharmacy location, that’s the CVS where you got your COVID-19 vaccination!

In Walgreen’s case, you have to create a Walgreens account to even schedule an appointment. If you don’t already know sorry to ruin it for you, but store rewards programs exist to track your purchasing habits. That data is then sold to advertisers.

It would then stand to reason that it’s in these companies best interest to get as many doses of the vaccine as possible. With the limited numbers being produced, they’re in direct competition with the county health departments. Private companies don’t pick locations for how they will best serve populations, they pick them for how they will best reach people willing to pay. They don’t structure their stores around getting people in and out, they structure their stores to sell products. At every step of the way profit is the number one motive. If you think that will change because of a global pandemic, you’re sorely mistaken.

This purpose built less efficient profit machine is being pitted against our actual health services and the profit machines are much better at competing. Even if you think your county health department sucks, the way to fix it is not by giving it competition. Maybe in the next global pandemic I can struggle to schedule a vaccination with a government website, knowing that at least the government won’t give me a 4 foot string of coupons with my vaccine.

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