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White House, States Ramp Up Vaccine Incentives as Numbers Slow

June 2, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 vaccination program, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Vaccination rates, which reached a peak of 3.38 million shots per day in April slowed to fewer than 2 million doses per day in May.

In response on Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced a “month of action” to urge more Americans to  get vaccinated before the July 4 holiday, including an early summer sprint of incentives and a number of new steps to ease barriers and make getting shots more appealing to those who haven’t received them. 

Biden is closing in on his goal of getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by Independence Day — essential to his aim of returning the nation to something approaching a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy this summer.

“The more people we get vaccinated, the more success we’re going to have in the fight against this virus,” Biden said from the White House Wednesday. 

He predicted that with more vaccinations, America will soon experience “a summer of freedom, a summer of joy, a summer of get togethers and celebrations. An All-American summer.”

Biden’s plan will continue to use public and private-sector partnerships, mirroring the “whole of government” effort he deployed to make vaccines more widely available after he took office. The president said he was “pulling out all the stops” to drive up the vaccination rate.

Among those efforts is a promotional giveaway announced Wednesday by Anheuser-Busch, saying it will “buy Americans 21+ a round of beer” once Biden’s 70% goal is met.

“Get a shot and have a beer,” Biden said, advertising the promotion even though he himself refrains from drinking alcohol.

Additionally, the White House is partnering with early childhood centers such as KinderCare, Learning Care Group, Bright Horizons and more than 500 YMCAs to provide free child care coverage for Americans looking for shots or needing assistance while recovering from side effects.

A number of states are also offering incentives for vaccinations, ranging from free concert tickets and beer to scholarships or the chance to drive a race car on a race track. 

In Ohio, a weekly $1 million prize drawing is awarded each week to a resident 18 years and older, and those 17 and under eligible for vaccination are put into a drawing for a full, four-year scholarship to any of Ohio’s state colleges and universities.

“Incentives alone are unlikely to deliver the population immunity that will end the pandemic. The series of million-dollar jackpots that is being deployed in Ohio is … intriguing but it is unclear whether this will be a widely embraced approach,” said researchers in a report  published in The New England Journal of Medicine regarding Incentives for Immunity. 

Minnesota is offering state park passes, fishing licenses, and tickets to fairs and amusement parks. 

The Colorado Department of Corrections is giving staff members who get fully vaccinated $500, and in Delaware they will offer vaccinated inmates five days of “good time” credits, special meals and an opportunity to be scheduled for in-person visitations when they resume. 

“Anecdotally, we’re hearing from Governors’ offices that these incentives do drive vaccine uptake, particularly in rural areas,” said a spokesperson from National Governors’ Association.

New Jersey offered a program which ended this week called a “shot and beer” to offer free beer from a local brewery for anyone 21 and older who received a shot.  

Michigan’s incentive is, once the state documents that 70% of the eligible population has received at least one dose, its orders on masks and limitations on public and private gatherings will be dropped. 

New York City will offer free or discounted tickets to attractions like the NYC Aquarium, Botanical Garden, Bronx Zoo, or the NYC Ferry.  

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that more incentives would be added to get closer to his goal of fully inoculating at least 5 million New York City residents by July.  

Many public health leaders are finding that the rates of vaccinations have taken a turn based on the incentives, particularly in Ohio where the Health Director Stephanie McCloud said there has been a 6% increase in vaccination rates. 

The study from the New England Journal of Medicine published in May found that incentives can produce a short-term bump in vaccination, however, multiple strategies will be necessary to increase population immunity. 

However, the study also indicates that although many Americans clearly recognize the value of COVID-19 vaccination and have freely pursued it, vaccination incentives could be seen as signaling that the vaccine is somehow undesirable or unsafe and could thereby generate a backlash.

Researchers also point out that more than 100 million Americans are now fully vaccinated and rewarding “late adopters” with incentive payments may seem unfair,  so an incentive program might have to compensate previously vaccinated people. 

Sarah Dosher is a 28-year-old from Hudson, Fla., who is not vaccinated and does not plan to get vaccinated, said she thinks the incentives are to cover up how unsafe the vaccines can be. She first heard about the vaccine incentives being offered in Ohio to enter a lottery for a million dollars.

“I think the incentives are a little pushy, I understand the virus is contagious, but billions of people are dying from cancer, and chemotherapy is not free, but here’s this vaccine and we are giving them a lollipop and pushing them over the edge,” said Dosher. 

To avoid having the incentives push in the opposite direction and actually deter individuals from getting vaccines, researchers recommend three strategies for vaccine incentives to ensure they are sustainable and effective at getting individuals vaccinated. 

This includes requiring a vaccination for employees, especially health system employees, providing access to activities for close person-to-person contact for only vaccinated individuals, and to raise the health and life insurance premiums for people who forgo vaccination.  

The question of whether or not the incentives will continue to be offered for future booster shots, if needed,  is another point of confusion.

“Offering incentives now may set a costly and undesirable precedent, causing people to expect, and wait for, an incentive the next time around,” said researchers. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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