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Columbus Grassroots Group Offers Free Rides To COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments

Ride share vehicle with COVID-19 safety measures
Columbus Stand Up
Ride share vehicle with COVID-19 safety measures

A Columbus grassroots group is offering a free rideshare program to improve coronavirus vaccination rates among African American residents and other underserved groups.

“We’re trying to make it so that, as soon as you have that appointment, there are no barriers to you getting to that appointment,” says Morgan Harper, co-founder of Columbus Stand Up.

Harper says only about 5% of the first doses of coronavirus vaccine available in Ohio have gone to African Americans. Her organization wants to help many older people and others who aren't tech-savvy who may have more difficulty getting through the process.

Ohio currently has a decentralized system for booking a vaccine, which has proven difficult to navigate. Columbus Stand Up offers a map of vaccination locations in Central Ohio and directs people to the appointment portals for local vaccine providers.

“We recognize that it’s complicated having to do all of this online, especially if you’re older,” Harper says. “And so we want to be able to provide a support system for the elders in our community to get the vaccination process complete.”

Once someone books an appointment, Harper explains they can text or call 614-259-7391, or fill out an online form, to connect with the rideshare.

“We will set them up with one of our volunteers, who will drive them to the appointment and wait for them to finish getting vaccinated, and wait for them to take them home,” Harper says.

She adds that the organization takes COVID-19 precautions during the drive.

“We let our drivers know about a divider you can purchase online to create a barrier between the front seat and the back seat area,” Harper says. “We also caution our drivers to keep windows open while they’re driving, and our riders to bundle up because it is very cold.”

Columbus Stand Up debuted in October during the election, organizing rides for early voters to get to the county board of elections. Harper says they're now focused on spreading the word about the vaccine rideshare program.

“Now it’s about taking those efforts to the streets and investing in the local leaders who are going to be able to make sure as many people in the community get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Harper says. “We’re up against the clock here. There are mutated versions of the virus that are emerging, and we need to have those grassroots honest brokers that the community trusts helping to complete this process.”

Harper, a progressive Democrat, unsuccessfully challenged Central Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty in last year’s primary for the 3rd congressional district. She says her work with Columbus Stand Up is showing positive results, but she may run for office again.

“At the end of the day, it’s people who are leading us in government who have the power to implement these policies, and you know that’s a tremendous opportunity to serve the community at scale, and one that still interests me,” Harper says.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.