While more than 166 million Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, rollout has slowed down across the United States. So organizations throughout the country are working to get more people vaccinated.
In North Carolina, the answer is giving people free rides to the nearest vaccination site.
Rides are the approach United Way of the Greater Triangle is taking, working with Lyft, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina and the N.C. Department of Transportation. The statewide effort, called Ride United NC, launched in mid-April and is targeting 100 counties to support communities of color, seniors and the uninsured.
“There’s a North Carolina COVID-19 public health coalition and one of the issues they’ve identified is transportation,” said Amy Strecker, stakeholder engagement manager for Duke Energy and board chairman of United Way of the Greater Triangle. “Major vaccine clinics are not necessarily set up on public transit routes and a majority of North Carolina is outside of our urban centers.”
The initiative is backed by corporate sponsors like Duke Energy that are helping to cover the costs of transportation and adding visibility to the program. Organizers are working to spread the word that accessing the benefits is easy. Eligible users can call the Ride United NC call center at 1.844.771.RIDE, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays to get a code to redeem in their Lyft app for free rides, or to schedule round-trip transportation if they don’t have the app. The code is also being promoted through nonprofits.
“There are different barriers that people have to reaching vaccination sites,” said Devin Desjarlais, director of marketing and storytelling at United Way of the Greater Triangle. “Some don’t have cars; some live in rural areas where Lyft might not exist.”
So not only is United Way providing rides through Lyft, they’re working with the transportation department to set up other options, like bus routes.
“Our goal is for North Carolinians to be healthy, and getting your vaccine is a really important part of that,” Strecker said. “This program is an opportunity for the United Way and the North Carolina business community to step in.”
Another barrier to improving vaccination rates, according to data released in March, is nearly a third of unvaccinated Americans don’t trust the science behind COVID vaccines.
Hence the second piece to Ride United NC: virtual health literacy sessions in partnership with epidemiologist Dr. Bahby Banks, with support from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
“That way they have the information they need to make their own choices about vaccines,” Desjarlais said. “So through these various channels, through the call center, through nonprofits we’re partnering with to distribute ride codes … and the health literacy sessions, we’re finding we’re best able to reach folks.”
For counties that might need stronger incentives, partners are leading additional efforts. Duke Energy, for example, has been providing food truck meals at vaccine sites in Wake County.
As Ride United NC gains momentum, individuals and businesses are invited to donate.
“Just because we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel doesn't mean that everything is fixed,” Desjarlais said. “The pandemic itself created challenges that it’s going to take us a long time as a community to overcome.”
Duke Energy’s vaccination efforts
Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas are supporting vaccination efforts in their seven-state service area.
In Florida: The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is being provided at the Duke Energy Crystal River Office.
In Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana: The company took extra precautions around hospitals and COVID-19 facilities and expedited requests for service at vaccine sites.
In Ohio: Duke Energy provided meals for vaccine workers and helped with transportation services for vulnerable customers.
In Indiana: Provided a grant to buy gloves and other supplies to be used at COVID-19 vaccination clinics; transportation for seniors and underserved community members.
In South Carolina: Duke Energy is helping seniors register for the vaccine, supporting supply drives for clinics and working with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to identify ways to help support vaccination rollout to underserved communities. The company is also partnering with the NAACP to provide masks, sanitizer and transportation to mass vaccination clinics.
In Tennessee: Piedmont Natural Gas supported a clinic with Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, Connectus Health and community- and faith-based organizations to bring 2,500 COVID-19 vaccines to residents in underserved and minority communities in Nashville.