As President Biden’s Term Begins, a Hopeful Nation Looks for an End to COVID-19

When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated into his second term in 1865, he said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

While Lincoln referred to the Civil War, his words could easily transcend time and befit the moment we are in now. Today, President-elect Joe Biden became President Biden. And while he assumes the world’s most difficult job at one of its darkest moments, his inauguration offers hope for the future, even if that future is not immediate.

As Biden looked out from the Capitol’s West Front, it likely looked different than what he imagined and certainly different than what he experienced during President Obama’s inaugurations. Rather than supporters and citizens gathered to watch one of the most significant rituals of our democracy, he saw a field of flags, planted where the American people might have stood.

The theme for the inaugural address was “America United.” After a divisive election, the ramifications of which culminated in an attack on the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago, it is time to remember that what unites us is greater than what divides us. And right now, the sole focus of the new administration must be on eradicating COVID-19 by getting the vaccine deployed.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the roughly 31 million doses that have been sent out, about 12 million have been used. In the absence of a national strategy for vaccine distribution, the responsibility has fallen to the states, leading to predictably mixed results.

A patchwork approach to issues that require a national view is far from a new problem. We see its challenges regularly, in everything from California’s Prop 65 foibles to potentially harmful CBD regulations. But few problems we have faced as a country have affected the health and lives of so many and, more than ever, we cannot afford anything less than clear, strident federal leadership.

It is our hope that a national strategy gets CPG essential workers the vaccine faster. The 1.7 million workers that make up the CPG industry’s front line have been prioritized by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for Phase 1b, but the state rollouts have been inconsistent. Demand, however, has not. The industry has been meeting extraordinarily high demand, up approximately 10% since the beginning of the pandemic, keeping facilities open and employees working around-the-clock to ensure that store shelves remain stocked.

While safety measures taken by CPG companies have been effective, transmission of the virus in local communities, between neighbors, friends and family members, remains one of the largest threats to the industry’s workforce. Vaccinating CPG’s essential workforce is the best defense against disruption to the supply chain of products that Americans rely on to stay home until everyone has the chance to be vaccinated.

Until now, the federal government has failed to assert itself and change the course of the COVID-19 crisis. But we are encouraged by the incoming administration’s efforts to include the National Guard and FEMA to use their logistics and delivery expertise in hard-to-reach communities — where many of our companies operate. The new administration is already thinking differently, focusing on mobile vaccination clinics, expanded pharmacy deployment and the removal of unnecessary hurdles for qualified individuals to administer the vaccine, of particular note to our members who have medical facilities on site for frontline employees.

We appreciate that President Biden does not underestimate the task; rather, he brings a determination that inspires confidence. “This will be one of the most challenging operational efforts ever undertaken by our country,” he admitted during Friday’s release of his vaccine plan. “You have my word that we will manage the hell out of this operation.”

We welcome the new commander in chief. We look forward to working with him to get our industry’s essential workers vaccinated, cheering efforts to get the rest of the country closer to herd immunity and, to harken back to Lincoln, binding up the nation’s wounds.