How Shake Shack, McDonald's and others are lending a hand to the COVID vaccine push

·Associate Producer
·5 min read

The global COVID-19 mass vaccination effort is in full swing — and major companies, including America's fast food giants — are joining the battle to nudge citizens into getting their shot in the arm.

As President Joe Biden applauds the "great milestone" in the fight against the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sparked a furor this week by relaxing mask requirements for fully vaccinated people. However, the path to normalcy is predicated on getting as many people inoculated from the virus as possible. 

Enter fast food giants like Krispy Kreme, McDonald's (MCD), Shake Shack (SHAK) and others like United Airlines (UAL), Lyft (LYFT) and Uber (UBER). In their own individual ways, the companies are trying to encourage vaccination — mostly by offering freebies like beer, donuts and ride shares to consumers who voluntarily do so.  

United Airlines (UAL) on Monday announced a contest offering a full year of free flights. Between Monday and June 22nd, passengers can upload their vaccination record to the airline's mobile app or website to enter the “Your Shot to Fly” sweepstakes. United plans to give away 30 pairs of tickets throughout the month of June. Then, on July 1st, five randomly selected MileagePlus members who have entered the contest will be chosen to win the grand prize of free travel for a year for themselves and one other person, including any class of service and any location across the globe.

On Friday, Shake Shack announced it plans to expand its vaccination promotion of free fries nationwide. It's now available at all Shack locations in the U.S., excluding airports, stadiums and ballparks, to those that provide a vaccination card through Saturday, June 12th, with the purchase of any burger or chicken sandwich. It kicked off last week when Shake Shake teamed up with the NYC's Mayor Office.

Meanwhile, getting a shot could also lead to finding a new love. Dating service OKCupid also announced on Friday that it was joining the White House effort, by offering an incentive to users who declare their vaccination status on their profiles.

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'It takes all of us'

The Golden Arches teamed up with the Biden administration to make access to vaccine information more easily accessible. In mid-May, the We Can Do This campaign will be featured on a McDonald’s billboard at the heart of Manhattan's Times Square. And in July, all McDonald's coffee cups and delivery stickers will be emblazoned with the campaign symbol.

"This is a team effort – it takes all of us," McDonald's said in a release, touting the effort to "provide trusted, independently verified information about COVID-19 vaccines to our customers in the nearly 14,000 communities we serve." 

On Tuesday, the White House revealed a partnership with ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft to offer free rides to anyone going to a vaccination site to get their shot. The offering, which the administration hopes will push America closer to the 70% threshold needed for herd immunity from COVID-19, will kick off in the next two weeks on the companies' apps through July 4th.

Courtesy: McDonald’s
Courtesy: McDonald’s

Back in March, Krispy Kreme got the ball rolling with freebies incentivizing inoculations. The company offered one free, glazed donut to everyone who gets a free COVID-19 shot — but the backlash was swift, as health experts questioned making it easier for those with health or diet issues to get sweets.

However, CEO Mike Tattersfield defended his company's intentions in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live. "We're a sweet treat company, [and] if folks don't want to visit a donut shop, they don't have to," he said at the time.

Meanwhile, other companies like Anheuser-Busch (BUD) is offering a "first round" of beer on the company, for those who have been vaccinated through its reward program.

Through May 31st, hamburger chain White Castle is offering a complimentary dessert-on-a-stick for all who have received a COVID-19 vaccination card to "celebrate customer vaccinations and the promise of brighter days ahead."

Not to be outdone, Unilever (UL) on Friday delivered "truckloads" of free ice cream to select vaccination sites to newly vaccinated people, site workers, and volunteers in major cities like NYC, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Memphis, Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix.

In a release, the company — known for its dessert brands like Breyer's, Ben & Jerry's, Klondike, Popsicle, among others — said it "selected key vaccination sites where hesitancy is high." It plans to extend the program nationally, and is running a contest on Twitter for a chance to win free ice cream.

The Biden administration is also working with many businesses to provide special deals and promotions for those who get vaccinated. Albertsons (ACI) and Safeway are offering customers a 10 percent discount on groceries; and at Target (TGT) or CVS (CVS), customers can get $5 dollars off any purchase, while The Vitamin Shoppe gives the vaccinated a free snack.  

States are also backing this push — in unique yet controversial ways.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine raised eyebrows with plans to award five residents that received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination and are at least 18 years, a $1 million prize. 

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And on Saturday, the The Alabama Department of Public Health announced the Talladega Superspeedway will serve as both a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site. All those who partake will be able to drive their truck or car around the speedway, known to be the largest track in NASCAR, for a couple of laps — but only at highway speed.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma or email her at Check out her latest: