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Airline offers 1 year of free flights to get people vaccinated

United Airlines becomes the latest entity to offer up prizes to get Americans to pull up their sleeves for the COVID vaccine.
Credit: AP
FILE - (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

After states like Ohio and Oregon offered up $1 million to get people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, United Airlines is joining the sweepstakes tactic. It is offering members of its loyalty program a chance to win one year of free flights if they get vaccinated.

United said any new or existing MileagePlus members who uploads their valid COVID-19 vaccination card to the airline via its mobile app or website will be entered into the "Your Shot to Fly" sweepstakes. Entries will be taken until June 22.

Five members will be selected on July 1 to receive a year of travel for themselves and a companion in any class of service anywhere United flies, with a maximum of 26 trips. That comes out to one every two weeks. United also said that, throughout June, it will give away 30 pairs of round-trip tickets to anywhere it flies, also in any class of service.

"Thanks to the vaccine, more and more destinations are opening up for travel – and we know our customers are eager to fly. We're excited to give people one more reason to get vaccinated so they can reunite with friends and family or take that long-awaited vacation which all could be just one shot away," United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement.

The contest is open to any U.S. resident who is at least 18 years old and is a MileagePlus member.

Those who are vaccinated and concerned about privacy or who aren't vaccinated due to health or religious reasons can send it in via mail to MileagePlus Vax Sweepstakes, PO Box 158, Freeburg, IL 62243-0158. The letter must include an email address, name, full address, phone number and MileagePlus number.

Some people have suggested that businesses asking for a person's vaccination status is a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This is false. HIPAA mandates that health care providers and health insurance companies cannot disclose certain medical information without your consent. The rule extends to some related medical fields, but it does not protect non-medical businesses from asking for your vaccination status. 

"Anyone really can ask you for your information under HIPAA," said Iliana Peters, a health privacy specialist and HIPAA expert with the Washington, DC law office Polsinelli. "It's you, the patient, who has to make the decision 'Yes, I'm going to give that information,' or 'No, I'm not, because that's my decision.' But that isn't regulated by HIPAA.”

\Mia Salenetri contributed to this report.

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