Uber’s one-shot deal: Flu vaccine at your doorstep

Uber’s one-shot deal: Flu vaccine at your doorstep

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Uber driver had just turned on his cellphone when the call came in. Someone five minutes away wanted a flu shot. The SUV limo carried nurse Kate Dicker to the address, and she gathered her gear and went inside.

Dicker and a few dozen other nurses spent the day Thursday delivering on-demand flu shots to homes and offices in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Customers who normally use the Uber cellphone app to call for a ride instead used it to get a free flu shot.

Uber, which has done similar promotions with less vital products such as ice cream, paid the drivers. The nurses’ pay and the cost of the vaccine were covered by Passport Health, a Baltimore based provider of travel medicine and immunization services, and Pager, a New York-based health care provider.

“I called because I am very serious about getting a flu shot every year,” said David Cohen-Tanugi, who saw an e-mail about the one-day promotion by the car service Thursday morning and tried a few times before Dicker arrived at embr labs, the company Cohen-Tanug co-founded. Juggling a start-up and his Ph.D. dissertation leaves little time to make it to a clinic, he said, and his co-workers don’t have health insurance.

“I’m really happy Uber is exploring creative and alternative uses for their platform, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes,” Cohen-Tanugi said.

The idea for the promotion, called UberHEALTH, came from John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He said he’s long been troubled by how inconvenient it is to get a flu shot – and how important. Every year anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 Americans die from the flu, depending on the strain, severity and length of season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu shots aren’t perfect, but they can prevent or lessen most infections.

Flu shots are particularly recommended this year because of fears of Ebola, which shares the flu’s early symptoms. Preventing flu infections will avert unnecessary panic and overcrowding of hospitals, Brownstein said.

Brownstein contacted Uber, and the company agreed.

He was thrilled with how well his idea was being received. “It’s way oversubscribed. Everybody wants it,” he said, tagging along with Dicker on Thursday. She told him about one office that requested 18 shots for everyone in the office. “How cool is that?” he said.

He wanted see if people would get a shot if the process was easier. The model of delivering health care by car service could work to provide basic preventive care, Brownstein said. He thought the door-to-desk delivery system would also reach people who might not show up at a citywide health clinic or take the time to get a shot at a drugstore.

Uber had not compiled numbers by Thursday evening, but the nurses stayed busy all day in Cambridge. People who called for a small number of shots often upped their request when the nurse arrived.

In Washington, the service was extended for an hour to meet the demand, according to Uber’s Twitter account. The company did not return calls for comment.

Ben Kertman of Cambridge said he had tried unsuccessfully several times to call the service. Luckily, his start-up, SproutsIO, shares a space with embr, so he got a shot when Dicker was in the building.

He closed his eyes and looked away while the needle pierced his upper arm. “Every time, I think it’s going to be worse than it is,” he said. He looked relieved when it was over.

by usa today

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