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Uber asks governors to give drivers early access to COVID-19 vaccines

CEO’s letter urges states to classify drivers as essential workers

The Uber logo against a dark background. Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Uber sent letters today to every US governor asking that their drivers and delivery people be classified as essential workers and given prioritized access to COVID-19 vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended the first batch of vaccines go to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, with essential workers — including those in transportation — following in a second phase. But it’s up to each state to decide the specifics of their vaccine distribution plan.

“After nine months on the frontlines keeping their communities running, we are asking governors in all 50 states to prioritize drivers and delivery people for early vaccine access,” said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a statement to The Verge.

Uber made a similar appeal to the CDC earlier this week, saying in a letter that early access to a COVID-19 vaccine “would help drivers and delivery people continue to play their essential role while also reducing the risk that they may inadvertently contract, or possibly transmit, the virus.”

In the letter to state governors, Khosrowshahi argues that Uber can use their services “to remove transportation barriers faced by individuals who will need to travel to their vaccination appointments.” Both letters point to the use of Uber by health care workers, restaurants, and people relying on delivery to stay at home during the pandemic.

While Uber is asking for its workers to be considered essential, the company has long been criticized for repeatedly fighting to classify those same drivers as contractors rather than employees. Uber has gone so far as to say that “drivers’ work is outside the usual course of Uber’s business.” Part of its business or not, more drivers and delivery people could continue working through the pandemic with early access to vaccination.

The FDA advisory committee is meeting on Thursday to discuss emergency authorization of the Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and it will be doing the same next week for the Moderna vaccine. States have already begun their preparations for vaccine distribution, but with limited supply, there may not be enough doses available to vaccinate all health care workers by the end of the year. As more doses become available in 2021, it will take careful consideration from state officials to determine which populations of people should be prioritized.