By Nandita Bose and Tina Bellon
The White House on Tuesday announced a series of steps aimed at boosting U.S. COVID-19 vaccination rates, including a partnership with ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, as it seeks to achieve President Joe Biden’s July 4 reopening deadline.
The latest actions also include vaccination sites at community colleges, among other efforts, the White House said in a statement.
The new initiatives come at a time when U.S. demand for vaccines has declined significantly, forcing the administration to figure out new ways to motivate people to get vaccinated.
President Biden will discuss the steps in a meeting with a bipartisan group of governors on Tuesday.
“Today, the president will highlight an … effort by the ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber to provide free rides to anyone going to a vaccination site to get vaccinated,” the statement said.
Biden has set a target of getting 70% of U.S. adults inoculated by July 4 so the country can be safely reopened for celebrations and small Independence Day holiday gatherings. As of Monday, 46% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tuesday’s partnership comes after Uber sent a letter to the Biden team in December, offering help with vaccinations. It also urged the administration to maintain Uber drivers’ status as independent contractors, while offering the ability to provide some benefits.
Biden campaigned on providing more benefits to gig workers by reclassifying them employees – a move opposed by companies involved. U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told Reuters two weeks ago, “in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees.”
The rides build on existing vaccination programs Uber and Lyft launched at the end of last year, which combine public service with self interest, as the companies seek to have drivers and riders return to the road.
Uber has offered 10 million self-funded free or discounted rides to vaccination sites, while Lyft said it would provide an uncapped amount of free vaccination rides paid for in partnership with other corporate sponsors.
Those programs targeted vulnerable communities lacking healthcare and transportation, while rides under the White House partnership are open to everyone.
Uber and Lyft said they will pay for the additional rides.
“Ride codes will cover $15 each way, which based on previous rides given to vaccination sites, we expect to cover most, if not all, of riders’ fares,” Lyft said.
Biden also will announce funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for states for on-the-ground efforts to promote vaccinations, such as phone banking and door-to-door canvassing.