Uber to supply free rides to Walgreens to broaden Covid vaccine entry

A man waits for pharmacist Joe Borge in Danvers, MA on February 1, 2021. On the first day of Phase 2 of the COVID-19 rollout, seniors 75 and older will be vaccinated at the Walgreens pharmacy on 107 High Street. in Danvers.

Pat greenhouse | Boston Globe | Getty Images

Walgreens and Uber are working together to make it easier for people who don’t have a car or nearby pharmacy to get a Covid-19 vaccine. They announced Tuesday that Uber would offer free rides to Walgreens stores and clinics for those who book an appointment and live in underserved parts of the country.

The pilot program starts in Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and El Paso. A Walgreens spokeswoman said free rides would be offered in Atlanta as early as next week and then rolled out to the other cities.

The partnership is part of a promise Uber made in December to offer 10 million free or discounted trips to ensure transportation doesn’t stop people from getting the Covid vaccine. Once a person has a confirmed appointment with Walgreens or any of the company’s off-site clinics, they’ll receive an email with an offer to schedule a free ride.

Walgreens, the country’s second largest pharmacy chain, will take on an expanded role in introducing Covid vaccines later this week. Vaccines will be available from Friday to priority groups such as elderly Americans or those with pre-existing medical conditions in some stores in 15 states and two jurisdictions, Chicago and New York City.

The Biden government announced last week that it would begin delivering cans directly to around 6,500 retail stores across the country. It is planned to eventually expand this program to 40,000 pharmacies.

So far, limited supply has slowed the adoption of vaccines. It has also reflected wider health inequalities. The majority of the nearly 13 million people who were given at least one shot of a Covid vaccine in the first month after it was distributed were older, white, and female, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many vaccination centers have relied on online systems that can be difficult to navigate for elderly Americans or inaccessible to those without cell phones or reliable internet access.

Covid took a disproportionate toll on black Americans. Black Americans have died from Covid at 1.5 times the rate of white people, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists in the Atlantic.

Walgreens and Uber said they plan to work together in other ways too. Uber said it will add in-app features that will make it easier for Uber drivers, delivery drivers, and freight workers to book a vaccine appointment when it becomes generally available. The companies are developing an educational program with the National Urban League to reduce hesitation about vaccines.

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