man helping older woman into a car

Walgreens and Uber Technologies announced Tuesday that they have entered into an agreement to try to make it easier to connect people with COVID-19 vaccine appointments and transport people to those appointments.

The partnership, focusing on equitable access for underserved communities, could help some independent living residents and others who have had difficulty in getting vaccinated.

“What we’re trying to do is to take down any challenges to transportation barriers that consumers may have,” Walgreens Senior Vice President of Pharmacy and Healthcare Rick Gates told CNBC.

In addition to being able to make an appointment online or through the Walgreens app, consumers also will be able to phone a call center or book an appointment at a local Walgreens pharmacy, Gates said. That capability could address technology issues that some older adults may have.

“We’re trying to make it multipronged, if you will,” he added. “It’s not going to just be through our app. It’s not just going to be online.”

The companies expect to roll out several initiatives over the coming months as vaccines become available for mass distribution. Among them:  

  • Free transportation to Walgreens stores and offsite vaccine clinics as part of a larger commitment by Uber to provide up to 10 million free or discounted rides to vaccinations. Pilot transportation programs will begin in cities including Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, and El Paso, TX.
  • A new educational program with the National Urban League to address vaccine hesitancy. 

Independent living communities were not included in the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program that brought on-site vaccination clinics to assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities, despite the fact that some live within continuing care retirement community campuses that include multiple levels of care and services. Walgreens and CVS Health are the primary pharmacies involved in the program.

Gates said Tuesday that first-dose clinics have now been completed at almost 90% of assisted living communities that chose to participate in the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program and have Walgreens as their pharmacy partner. First-dose clinics have been completed in all participating SNFs that have Walgreens as their pharmacy partner, and second-dose clinics have been completed at 90% of those SNFs, he added. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccine require two shots for optimal efficacy.

Healthcare personnel and residents of SNFs and assisted living communities were recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as top-priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. The next priority group, according to the CDC, are frontline essential workers and people aged more than 75 years. People aged 65 to 74, those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, and other essential workers are recommended to be vaccinated after that.