SAN FRANCISCO - Walgreens and Uber are teaming up to offer people in underserved communities free rides to COVID-19 vaccine centers, part of an ongoing effort to address health care inequities and help those hit hardest by the pandemic.
The companies announced Tuesday that Uber will offer free rides to Walgreens stores and offsite vaccine clinics for those who book a Walgreens vaccination appointment. The pilot transportation program will start in Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and El Paso before expanding to other cities.
Once an individual has confirmed a vaccine appointment at a Walgreens store or one of its offsite clinics, they will receive an email to schedule the free Uber ride.
The initiative is part of a pledge Uber made in December to offer 10 million free or discounted rides to ensure transportation isn’t the reason somebody can’t get the vaccine.
"Transportation should never be a barrier to health care," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. "We look forward to building on this exciting new partnership with Walgreens, harnessing the power of the Uber platform to help connect more people with vaccines, as we all work together to help end this pandemic."
Doctor Michelle Chester prepares to administer the COVID-19 vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center on December 14, 2020 in New Hyde Park on Long Island, New York. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to several interrelated factors that hinder vaccine access for communities of color, including vaccine hesitancy and lack of transportation. Walgreens and Uber said the companies are also developing programs with the National Urban League to educate those who are hesitant to get the vaccine.
Walgreens, the country’s second-largest pharmacy store chain, said that nearly 80% of the U.S. population lives within five miles of a Walgreens pharmacy. But the company has also opened mobile and off-site clinics to help with vaccine distribution in underserved and rural areas.
More than 70% of Walgreens COVID testing sites are also in "socially vulnerable areas," the pharmacy chain said.
Walgreens was among a number of pharmacies selected by the CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help in the rollout of vaccines, as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Other participating chains include CVS, Rite Aid, Walmart, Costco and supermarket pharmacies.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said last week that the CDC was "making sure that we are picking pharmacies in that first phase that are located in areas that are harder to reach to ensure that we have equitable distribution of the pharmacy doses."
The pharmacy doses will be distributed to states by population, but a priority will be to get the vaccine to minority communities that have suffered a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus, Zients said.
Beginning Feb. 12, Walgreens will administer vaccines to priority groups, such as healthcare workers, people 65 and older, and individuals with pre-existing conditions. The rollout will happen in Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.