Vaccinating 330 million Americans – many of whom view vaccines and the government with mistrust – has already proven to be a tall order. The nationwide effort is going to require endless hustle, creativity and a plan so the most vulnerable and isolated get their shots to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But cross-industry partnerships are in the works. In December, for example, Lyft and Anthem announced a plan to offer rides to citizens who are eligible and ready to get their vaccines.
Now Uber says it’ll join that effort through a partnership with Walgreens.
The companies announced yesterday they will work together to take on the challenges inherent with vaccine distribution by adopting a three-pronged approach: education, access and technology.
The plan calls for a pilot program to run in cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, El Paso and Houston. Together, the companies say they will provide up to 10 million free or discounted rides to Walgreens locations and vaccine clinics. Goals include making the process as easy as possible: For example, Walgreens says it will be easy to schedule a ride for a vaccination appointment with one click on a device. Uber says it will help meet the demand by also deploying drivers who deliver for Uber Eats and Uber Freight.
Of course, not everyone has smartphone or is comfortable using technology, which in part has contributed to an ongoing lack of vaccine equity. Further, plenty of citizens are hesitant to schedule their vaccines in the first place. To that end, the companies say they are working with the National Urban League to roll out an educational campaign to tackle those concerns.
Such outreach is crucial, as early reports have suggested Black Americans across U.S. states and cities are currently being vaccinated at a rate significantly lower than their share of the local population – and in many states, demographic data isn’t being reported at all. The discrepancy has been persistent coast-to-coast, from Los Angeles to New York.
So, the challenge only isn’t about fear; many of the people who should be at the front of the vaccination line still haven’t been contacted and hence are in the dark. California, which has lagged on vaccination compared to much of the nation, has realized that looking at zip codes to ensure people of color get vaccinated is a start – but the state’s government also needs to plan so it can prevent those who have easy access to vehicles simply don’t drive to places like the Oakland Coliseum and cut in line to get their shots at the expense of communities of color.
Transportation is part of that equation, hence ride-hailing companies like Uber have the opportunity to do their part – and also repair their brand reputations, too. The healthcare sector would also be wise to look at partnerships akin to the Uber-Walgreens alliance; deflecting blame and pointing fingers at certain communities months down the road simply isn’t fair.
Public health workers have put both government and the private sector on notice. “Vaccine hesitancy is a real concern, but I worry that focus on vaccine hesitancy is a way to deflect responsibility for equitable distribution on the front end,” said Anne Sosin of the Dartmouth Center for Global Health Equity in a recent interview with Politico.
Image credit: Fernando Zhiminaicela/Pixabay
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.