Uber delivers flu shots: How on-demand tech can do good
As Ebola panic rages anew, a much more contagious virus that actually kills tens of thousands in the US every year is on its way back: the flu.
Flu is most dangerous to the most vulnerable—small children, the elderly, the immuno-compromised—and every responsible adult should get a flu shot to help keep the germ from spreading. Typically, this involves a trip to the doctor or a local drug store. But on Thursday, in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., there was another option that didn’t even involve leaving the house: Uber.
At midday in these cities, Uber added on-demand flu shots to its standard menu of on-demand ride options. With the Uber app, users could call for a registered nurse, who would arrive to administer a flu shot at an indoor location of their choosing. The shots were free, and one request was good for shots for up to 10 people. The company also says it will donate $5 per shot given to Red Cross vaccination efforts for children.
Uber has a long track record of using novelty deliveries to generate publicity, and its flu shot campaign is partly about publicity, too. But while ice cream, burgers, and kittens are mostly fluffy marketing, flu shots are actually important. And while the Ebola scare has raised the specter of mass transportation as a vector for disease, Uber’s on-demand vaccines offer a compelling hint at how the 21st century’s hyper-efficient logistics networks could also be vehicles for delivering better public health.
A one-day vaccination drive in three cities won’t on its own deliver a knockout blow to the spread of flu. (We’ve asked Uber how many shots were given, and we’ll update you with a number when we hear back.) But the example it sets of using an app-based on-demand service to promote not just consumer instant gratification but an actual public good is one that should inspire others to undertake similar experiments. It’s easy to get cynical about how often the powerful technology so many of us have in our pockets is used for trivial ends. A reminder of its potential to help keep us healthy and safe offers a better ideal toward which technologists who want to claim the title of “innovator” should aim.