While large corporations and healthcare providers are taking the lead in the initial rollout of coronavirus vaccinations, small businesses are poised to play a vital role as vaccine production ramps up and a national distribution plan takes root outside urban centers.
The historic effort to administer and vaccinate upwards of 300 million Americans—some located in the furthest and desolate reaches of the continent—is expected to provide business opportunities for a cadre of service providers, including independent transportation companies, heating, and cooling specialists, security outfits, food distributors, pharmacies, and general stores across the nation.
Small business may be essential to success
"Lots of states will require lots of small business to step up," says Klaus Werner, chief marketing and digital officer of Global Industrial, a Systemax Inc. company.
The Long Island, N.Y.-based distributor, has served thousands of small businesses on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak, helping them procure personal protective equipment, signage, partitions, freezers, and other industrial equipment and office supplies amid the pandemic.
The company recently released a guide to help its B2B customers establish potential vaccination sites with procedures for managing patient flow, medical storage and handling, waste disposal, curbside and drive-thru clinics, modifying indoor locations, and general pandemic management.
"As the supply increases, we anticipate that a number of offices, grocery stores, and brick-and-mortar retailers will be transferred into vaccination centers," Werner says.
Government contract tips
With state and federal agencies managing the nationwide distribution program, small businesses should be aware of bidding requirements, including registering with the System for Award Management, which can take up to three weeks for approval, according to Gail Trauco.
The Atlanta entrepreneur and healthcare expert says federal small business and set-aside certifications are required for women, veterans, and proprietors of Historically Underutilized Business, or so-called HUBZones. Women minority-owned and operated businesses can be certified through the Women's Business Enterprises National Council, adds Trauco, a registered oncology nurse and pharmaceutical trials expert who's spent four decades helping families navigate a sea of red tape in the U.S. healthcare system.
She highlights several business opportunities to aid vaccine distribution, including the need for:
- Mobile nurses, particularly in rural and underserved areas.
- Patient advocacy groups to organize vaccine administration to specific patient populations and follow-up to document vaccine reactions as required by the Centers for Disease Control.
- Local supermarket and big-box retailer parking lots to house mobile vaccine units and temporary facilities.
- Off-duty law enforcement to ensure public safety and security.
- Transportation security to accompany vaccine shipments from dispensing locations.
- Patient coordination and scheduling to minimize wasted vaccines.
- Local restaurants to provide boxed meals for vaccine unit staff and volunteers.
"Small business opportunities are limitless to assist with the COVID vaccine rollout," asserts Trauco, owner of Patient advocacy practice Medical Bill 911, and PharmaKon LLC, which provides clinical research services for the federal government, pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
Community banker Jim Pendergast says his clients in the cold storage, food and beverage warehousing, and wholesale sectors have a unique advantage to support vaccine distribution efforts.
"They already have the equipment and infrastructure in place to serve as regional vaccine distribution and storage facilities, plus the administrative oversight to adapt to this new workflow," says Pendergast, a senior vice president at altLine, a division of Alabama-based The Southern Bank Co., which provides commercial financing for small and medium-sized businesses nationwide. "The partnership potential for vaccine distribution and storage subcontracts are huge, especially when it comes to rural and underserved regions."
Prepped for mass roll-out
360 Clinic, which has administered over 250,000 free COVID-19 tests in Orange County, Calif., through its two supersites, 10 walk-up kiosks and vans, and mobile concierge service, is ready to tackle the next challenge of the pandemic.
"All of our testing sites are prepared to provide vaccination services once the rollout commences," says Marketing Director Connie Fan. "We will continue serving the community with vaccinations, which will create more jobs and help the community get back on its feet during these tough times."
Super vaccination sites, such as Dodgers Stadium in nearby Los Angeles, Citi Field in Queens, N.Y., and Charlotte Motor Speedway have helped speed up a slow rollout.
According to the CDC, only 2.4 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated as of press time, far short of the Trump administration's target of vaccinating 20 million by the end of 2020.
Some businesses, like PEO Companies in Lincoln, Neb., hope to boost adoption by covering vaccinations for its 10 employees when supply becomes available.
"It's our moral and civic duty to do our part and encourage employees to get vaccinated, or even require it if they're working in-person," says Nelson Sherwin, manager of the human resources and compliance services provider. "We only have one operation, so this is a critical safety issue for us."