The United States has enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate every American citizen.
But vaccination rates have tapered as the people most eager to receive the vaccine have secured their appointments. Now health officials across the country are canvassing communities and performing social media outreach to ensure everyone has the latest information about vaccine safety to help inspire confidence in the vaccine and increase uptake.
But vaccine hesitancy isn’t the only barrier. Many people living in low-income communities far from health centers — particularly those from Black and Latinx communities — have been unable to get their vaccines because of a lack of access to transportation.
That’s why the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Uber, Paypal Giving Fund, and Walgreens have teamed up for the $11 million Vaccine Access Fund to help people get their vaccines by providing free and discounted transportation across the country to health centers.
LISC is working with local community organizations to arrange transportation via Uber to anyone who needs it. The program prioritizes Black, Latinx, and low-income communities to help overcome systemic inequalities, and people can also pay it forward by donating additional rides.
Uber has already provided 2 million free or discounted rides to communities throughout the pandemic and is now working with the federal government to offer free rides up to $25 to people who need to travel for their vaccination.
Global Citizen spoke with Julia Paige, the director of social impact for Uber, and Lisa Glover, the president and CEO of LISC, to learn more about the initiative.
Global Citizen: What's the background behind this fund and what are you trying to achieve?
Julia Paige: I think that it is really something we've thought a lot about. We realized and have been looking into the whole vaccine issue for some time, since actually the pandemic started.
And one of the things when we talked to the experts, they said, even if we get everything aligned and we have a great vaccine, a real hurdle for folks is transportation. And we didn't even realize the scope of that, but we knew that it was something that we could especially jump into and really help.
We began in December when we announced we were going to have 10 million free and discounted rides globally. And we started really digging in there. And then we talked to a lot of folks, including the White House, and we realized that there was a possibility of bringing other folks on this journey with us and really expanding what we could do alone.
And we had worked with LISC on a couple of other projects. So we went to them to say, hey, would you like to partner with us? We're thinking of doing something a little different. We'd like to create a Vaccine Access Fund so we could make anyone able to help us, and have you all manage it so it could be managed by a nonprofit, and also that any rides that were given to this… we would make no money off of them at all.
And they liked the idea. And I have to say, this is such an amazing organization. The fact that they could pull this together, you know, we work in tech and we work fast. And usually in the NGO world, they're not as fast as us. But I have to say, every time we've gone to LISC to ask them to partner with us, they've said, yes, we'll figure it out, we'll get this done. And they've done exactly that.
Why did it make sense for LISC to get involved and what does LISC bring to the initiative?
Lisa Glover: Building on what Julia just said, LISC is an organization that corporations like Uber can come to when they really want to get something done and we want to get it done quickly in our communities.
We have a vast network of community organizations and groups that we have trusted relationships with, in both urban communities and also in rural communities. So we can help a company like Uber deploy into a community because we have those connections already made.
So we've been working with a number of community organizations for some time through the pandemic in response to helping families, helping with child care, health workers, helping small businesses. And many of the organizations that we were already working with also have concerns about equitable vaccine distribution and they've been working on it from the get-go.
We can deliver the resources to our partners that are trusted on the ground and then they can work within their communities one-on-one very closely to get the transportation needs met. So we are extremely grateful to companies like Uber for providing this funding because that just gives us more support for our communities to get that equitable access to vaccines.
GC: Why is transportation such an important part of helping people get vaccinated?
JP: I think the key thing for us, is that transportation should not be the reason someone can’t get a vaccine. And we want to do everything in our power to ensure that.
We are mobility at Uber and movement is our core. And that's what we are. That's what we do. And so we really wanted to be a part of the solution on this. I think that the only way we're all going to get through this is if we all do our part.
I think we are uniquely qualified to take on this specific challenge and then, finding folks like LISC that we can work with, because the one thing we've learned is we have to get deep in the communities to really help people.
These aren’t some of the typical riders who take Uber. Some people may not have a smartphone, they may not even have internet. And so how are we going to help them? How are we going to reach them? And it takes really deep connections in communities to do that.
But also, just as a reminder, even when this is solved and hopefully we all are in a better place, transportation is going to go on and be an issue for many, many, many people in the US alone.
A lot of people can't reach basic health care because they don't have transportation. And one of the great things about this fund is that after we've all had our vaccine and everybody's got theirs, this fund keeps going and will be spent on making sure that transportation continues to be available to those who need it.
GC: And speaking of the riders and the drivers, what are some of the reactions of the drivers who've been involved?
JP: Everyone's proud to be a part of the solution and to play a key role. There are some people we had talked to who had taken a couple to a vaccine, and they were just thrilled that they could play even a small role in helping someone who might not have gotten the vaccine get there.
And so it's really exciting to see it all coming together and to also partner with so many great organizations, you know, working with UNESCO to make sure the world's teachers can get to the vaccine. We're working with so many great organizations to really ensure that everyone can get to a vaccine. I'm excited about that.
GC: Why do you think this work is it so important? And who are you specifically targeting with this initiative?
LG: I think that we can all agree that almost everything about the pandemic has hit Black and Brown communities the hardest in terms of illness, in terms of deaths, lost jobs, income, child care. You just lay it down and it just really hit these communities very, very hard. So the inequities were there before, but COVID-19 has really amplified those inequities. And we've been working to address that for a long time.
We want to make sure, as Julia said, that everyone has access to the vaccine, regardless of where they live, how much they make. We want everybody to be safe and to have confidence in the future and what we're going to do. So, you know, transportation is one small barrier in these communities. But if we can eliminate that barrier in partnership with Uber, we feel really good and very strongly that that is a positive step.
GC: In terms of transportation to health care facilities and appointments, does it go broader than just access to vaccines? And is this an issue that people know enough about?
JP: No, and I think it's an issue globally, but it's an issue specifically in the US that I don't think people think is an issue in the US. There's something like a 30% no-show for medical appointments and a lot of that is due to transportation. There's millions and millions of people every year who put off health care because they can't get there, and a lot of people are dying, and some 50% of the US doesn’t have access to public transportation.
And so movement is such a key part of our everyday lives and so many people don't have access to it. So hopefully this is the start of helping people realize that this is an issue and hopefully we can all come together and figure out ways to make that better.
GC: What's the role of clinics and health centers in ensuring access to the vaccine?
LG: I'm just going to address that by saying I don't think people realize just how important the community clinics and the health centers are in the communities that we're trying to serve, and just how much we're going to need them as we emerge from the pandemic.
There's health care providers out there and they're not only helping with vaccines and taking care of people who have COVID-19, but they're also helping people who have really struggled during the pandemic, connecting them with food; substance abuse, which has become an issue during the pandemic.
So many other things on top of the traditional health care that we have, they are just critical in our communities. And I think we need to make their jobs as easy as we possibly can to help. And one of the things we can do is help get the patients over to them.
GC: How can members of the public get support from the Vaccine Access Fund?
LG: Each city has their own hubs for access to the vaccine, so people can go to those health hubs and you should see on their links to “get a ride” — and we’re one of those links.
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