Uber brings flu shots to users’ doorsteps

Offer costs $10, will be available in some cities for 1 day only

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Haven’t gotten your flu shot yet? On Thursday, you can order one up using Uber.

Customers who normally use the Uber smartphone app to call for a ride will be able to request a flu shot — and a nurse in an Uber car will show up at their home or office in about three dozen cities across the country.

The charge is $10, but the nurse can give up to 10 flu shots at each location for no additional charge. So work colleagues can split the cost among themselves.

But it’s only a one-day offer.

Last year, the company provided flu shots for a day in Boston, New York, Washington and Chicago. The effort was so successful — with more than 2,000 vaccinations — that Uber and its partners decided to scale up this winter.

The on-demand flu shots will be available between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Passport Health, a travel clinic company with locations across North America, is again providing the registered nurses.

Organizers expect interest to be high. Users will be able to tap an option labeled “UberHEALTH” to request a nurse.

“If you don’t get one the first time, you’ll get a message that basically says all cars are busy and to please try again,” said company representative Sarah Maxwell.

Organizers plan to have more than 10,000 flu shots available. Hundreds of nurses will be at the ready in Uber vehicles across the country, with the specific number varying by city, Maxwell said. The $10 fee will cover a portion of the total cost; the remainder is being donated by Uber, Passport Health, and Epidemico, a public health data-mining company owned by Booz Allen Hamilton.

John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, came up with the idea last year as a strategy for boosting vaccination rates. Though experts say vaccination is the single best way to prevent the spread of influenza, only 30 percent of adults ages 18-49 get inoculated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Convenience and accessibility are often cited as barriers.

But new technology may help address the convenience factor. Brownstein and researchers surveyed consumers who used the service last year to get their flu shots. Nearly 80 percent said they were unlikely to have gotten the vaccine if not for the on-demand delivery, according to a paper released Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“This is basically a hard-to-reach population,” Brownstein said in an interview. “They’re not opposed to the vaccine. It’s just not part of their routine.”

Whether such efforts are practical depend on cost-effectiveness and scalability, which the researchers didn’t address in their paper. But if such programs are shown to be practical, they could be extremely useful in scenarios “when near-complete immunization of the population is necessary to prevent circulation of an infectious agent, especially one with severe consequences,” they noted.

Here are the cities where the on-demand flu shots will be available to Uber users:

Northeast: Baltimore; Boston; Hartford, Conn.; Hoboken, N.J.; Jersey City, N.J.; New York; Philadelphia; Providence, R.I..; Washington, Worcester, Mass.

South: Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Houston; Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans; Orlando; Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Richmond; Tampa Bay, Fla.

Midwest: Columbus, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Milwaukee; Pittsburgh

West: Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles; Orange County, Calif.; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco, Seattle.

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