Brent Huot received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in early March. Despite being below the age of eligibility, and healthy, he had an in: he was signed up as a driver for DoorDash, the gig-work food delivery app.
In reality, Huot hadn’t delivered a single order. And he didn’t plan on starting.
“I just went on the app, created a profile,” said Huot, a 20-year-old Syracuse University student who got his vaccine in New York State. “[It] took a few hours to confirm me, then I was in and good to go and use that as a reason to get vaccinated.”
Huot isn’t alone, either. While young people are just this week becoming eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in some states, those eager to get the vaccine early have for some time now found a relatively simple loophole to jump the line: food-delivery apps.
Several states in the U.S. opened vaccine eligibility to delivery drivers early in the rollout, including them under the umbrella of essential workers. While that has given a swath of at-risk, active drivers a chance at immunity, it also opened the door for those who saw posing as workers on rideshare and food-delivery apps like UberEats, Doordash, and Postmates as a quick way to get a shot.
Those who spoke to The Daily Beast described the process as relatively painless. Following a quick sign-up and approval process, the new “drivers” said they were able to register under their state’s guidelines, or at least a local interpretation of them.
The process was so easy for Huot that he didn’t just do it for himself. He said he went on to help over 80 other students at colleges across New York state get vaccinated early through his “DoorDash method,” promoting the loophole on his social media account.
Huot ended up getting his second dose this past Sunday—two days before most New York college students would become eligible for their first. A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health did not respond to multiple requests for comment except to say the state opened vaccine eligibility to all residents over the age of 16 on April 6.
Americans maneuvering to the front of the vaccine line has raised ethical questions, even as the vaccine rollout expands. After all, if more vaccinations mean fewer cases, what’s wrong with taking an appointment that could otherwise go to waste?
But critics say taking a last-second appointment before vaccine doses expire at a local pharmacy is far different from posing as an essential worker.
“It’s grossly unethical,” said Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law and director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “It’s not just cutting in front of a line. They’re cutting in front of people who have a clear and more urgent need for the vaccine. And ultimately it could even cause a death.”
Joel Ceja, 27, thought differently as he looked over appointments on California’s vaccination website in early March, when only about 20 percent of the state’s population had received the first dose. Having just registered as a driver for DoorDash, he said, he waited several hours to see if other people would fill the open appointments before taking one.
Both Huot and Ceja said they chose DoorDash because of its quick sign-up process, though users on social media have described using Postmates and UberEats as well. In a statement to The Daily Beast, a DoorDash spokesperson said it should take new drivers one to two weeks before their account is fully activated, but that signing up requires only a few minutes.
Postmates did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said the company has launched state and local vaccine eligibility guides for drivers and is providing access to an in-app essential worker card for those who are eligible and need documentation to receive the vaccine.
“I told myself, it looks like there’s a lot of appointments, so if people want these appointments they’ll take them,” Ceja, who got his vaccine in Los Angeles, said. “I figured one person vaccinated is still one person vaccinated.”
Huot focused on getting college students vaccinated because young Americans have been driving the spread of COVID-19, and he believes getting more shots in students’ arms will reduce the virus’s total spread.
Gostin said that isn’t a decision for young people to make, and that if college students want to avoid the virus, they should wear masks and practice social distancing, not take a quick out.
“It’s also unfair to everyone else who plays by the rules,” Gostin said.
Ceja, like Huot, felt that he was doing what was right—protecting himself while filling an appointment that might otherwise not have been taken.
He said he made a single delivery “to be safe” before getting the vaccine and has continued to drive on occasion since. He couldn’t say the same for all of the friends he said followed his example.
Sami Gallegos, a spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health, said app-based delivery drivers weren’t meant to be included in the state’s rollout to begin with. California’s guidelines for essential workers in the food and agriculture sector, though, broadly list “delivery drivers” supporting restaurants and grocery stores as eligible.
“Our vaccination rollout is focused on reducing barriers for eligible individuals to receive a vaccine,” Gallegos said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, however, said that the county had interpreted the state’s guidelines to apply to app-based delivery drivers.
Eric Wasserman, a University of Oregon student from California and actual, active DoorDash driver, said his driver status allowed him to get a vaccine in California’s Marin County, as well. Wasserman had been a DoorDash driver for some time and got the vaccine to protect himself and his family, but said he had friends who signed up for the app only to get the vaccine. The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services did not reply to a request for comment.
“I showed proof of prior deliveries and that was it,” Wasserman wrote in a message to The Daily Beast. “Someone could literally have made 2 deliveries and qualified.”
Ceja, too, said some of his friends had to prove they had made deliveries before receiving the vaccine, something he said he never had to do.
Gallegos added that individual vaccine clinics in California determine what documentation they require to administer doses. And according to Gostin, the size and scope of the rollout has made it difficult for states to consistently enforce the same eligibility criteria across the board.
But signing up as a driver and making no or few deliveries just to qualify for the vaccine is unethical no matter where you are, Gostin said. He added that this particular form of line-jumping falls into a “legal gray area,” and the companies behind food-delivery apps should share the responsibility of policing it.
That doesn’t mean people who have gotten away with line-jumping have been discreet about it. Posts about signing up as a driver to get the vaccine have circulated on social media for the last few months, along with encouragement for others to do the same.
This loophole, like others, may become obsolete on April 16—the target date President Biden has set for opening vaccinations to all American adults. Many states have set earlier target dates in mid- or late April.
But so far, gig-work apps have provided an ethically questionable alternative for young people who don’t want to wait it out.
As Ceja put it, “The opportunity presented itself to me, and I took it.”