Uber Offers $10 Flu Shots on Demand

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Registered nurse Kate Dicker gives Uber user Kevin Flynn a flu shot.  (Alyssa Greenberg)

Neglected to get a flu shot this year? Starting today, you can order one on your smartphone.

Uber, the app that lets you hail a ride in a stranger's car, is now delivering flu shots to people in 35 cities across the United States, including San Francisco, Boston and New York. And you don't have to take a ride anywhere or stop by a pharmacy to get inoculated.

A screenshot of the UberHEALTH ap
A screenshot of the UberHEALTH app (Uber/Sarah Maxwell)

It'll cost you $10 for a wellness pack, but the nurse who arrives in an Uber car at your home or office can give flu shots to up to ten people at no additional cost. The wellness pack includes hand sanitizer, tissues, a tote bag, and even a lollipop.

Uber says it is not footing the bill for the nurses' time or the flu shots. Instead, the company is partnering with Passport Health, a provider of travel medicines, and Epidemico, a Boston-based analytics startup. Uber is paying for the delivery only.

Uber's Meghan Verena said the company has 10,000 flu shots to dole out this year. To request a nurse and get inoculated, tap an option on the company's app labeled "UberHEALTH."


'I Don't Really Get It, But I'm Old'

It's not clear why Uber is branching into vaccinations. It's possible this program will help Uber expand its user base. The company may also be looking to improve its reputation after a slew of negative press on topics ranging from drivers' criminal records to health care and pay.

Uber's Verena hopes UberHEALTH will be a hit with small businesses and startups, which don't usually pay to bring in a nurse to vaccinate all of their employees at once. And Uber has not ruled out offering other types of vaccinations in the future.

Regardless of Uber's intentions, epidemiologists we contacted say they support any new program that improves the rate of flu vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that just over 30 percent of people ages 18 to 49 get inoculated.

"The more options we give people, and the easier we make it to get vaccinated, that's a good thing," says Art Reingold, Professor and head of epidemiology at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. "I don't really get it myself. But I'm old and not really part of the Uber generation."

For Reingold, it's not clear why people aren't heading over to their local Walgreens or CVS to avoid paying $10. Under the Affordable Care Act, flu shots are considered preventative and are covered at no additional charge to the patient.

Convenience is King

"The effort it would take to find out if I'm covered for a flu shot, and where I can get it that's closest to me, it's sort of a hassle," said Nikhil Krishnan, 23, a New York-based research analyst at a startup called CBInsights.

John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, has been working with Uber on the vaccination program for more than a year. Brownstein's research has found the 'on demand' component is actually very important to young people like Krishnan. Apps like Pager and Heal, which bring doctors and nurses to your doorstep, are growing in popularity.

When Uber launched a pilot of UberHEALTH in four cities last year, Brownstein saw an important research opportunity. He sent survey questions to the 2,000 people who signed up to Uber's service, and got about 500 responses.

About twenty percent of those who responded said they wouldn't have opted to get a flu shot from traditional providers. Almost 80 percent said the delivery of the vaccine, via Uber, was "very important" to their decision to get vaccinated.

Brownstein emphasizes that UberHEALTH is just one approach to improving vaccination rates. Another is to educate people who insist you can get the flu from a flu shot (you can't), and to make vaccinations more accessible to people in rural areas.