Uber and Walgreens team up for free rides to COVID vaccine appointments

Pilot programs are set to get underway in socially vulnerable communities.

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Shylah Hallam-Noel left, a worker at Queen Anne Healthcare, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle, receives the second shot of the Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, from a Walgreens Pharmacist, right. The facility had an outbreak of COVID-19 in May of 2020 that resulted in more than 100 positive cases among staff and residents, including Allen, and the deaths of 20 residents and two staff members. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Uber will soon offer free rides to Walgreens clinics to help people in underserved communities receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The program is aimed at those who live in socially vulnerable areas and may not be able to easily make it to a pharmacy or clinic. 

Once you have confirmation of a Walgreens vaccine appointment, you'll receive an email inviting you to book a free ride if you’re eligible for one. Pilot transit programs will get underway in cities including Chicago, Houston and El Paso, Texas as the supply of vaccines ramps up, with one in Atlanta getting underway as soon as next week. 

Almost four-fifths of US residents live within five miles of a Walgreens pharmacy and the company has opened mobile and offsite clinics to bolster vaccine deliveries. Over 70 percent of the company's COVID-19 testing sites are in socially vulnerable communities.

Uber's transit pledge is part of a commitment it made in December to provide up to 10 million free or discounted rides to help people get vaccinated. Uber and Lyft have both made overtures to the Biden administration to assist with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, with the ridesharing companies looking to get their drivers prioritized for inoculations and offering to help with transport to appointments. 

While the free rides will help more folks get vaccinated, the program doesn't seem to address key issues about the rollout of inoculations in underserved areas. Those who lack a smartphone or internet access and people who struggle with online systems may find it hard to book an appointment.

Meanwhile, Uber plans to add in-app features to help drivers, delivery couriers and freight carriers who take on work for the company to lock in a vaccine appointment when they become more broadly available. There's also an educational program in the works to reduce any hesitancy people might have about taking the vaccine. Uber and Walgreens are developing that with the help of the National Urban League.

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