Coronavirus vaccine incentives offered for holdouts: Money, beer, gift cards

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Still leery of the COVID-19 vaccine? State workers in Maryland will be $100 richer if they get a shot, while Connecticut residents will be drinkin’ good in the neighborhood if they flash their vaccination card at Applebee’s and other eateries.

Governors faced a gold rush in the early days of the vaccine rollout. Now they are strip-mining for what is left of demand, dangling booze, cash and other incentives to draw in holdouts.

The push reflects fears that the U.S. will be unable to reach levels of immunity that can quash the spread of the coronavirus, despite early success. Many young adults who could break up chains of transmission by taking vaccines haven’t bothered because they don’t see COVID-19 as a personal threat.

“Our kids today probably don’t really realize just how important they are in shutting this thing down,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in offering $100 saving bonds to residents ages 16 to 35 who get vaccinated. “I’m trying to come up with a way that’s truly going to motivate them — and us — to get over the hump.”

Some governors are turning to another crowd-pleaser: free beer.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday said residents who get their initial doses in May can take their vaccination cards to one of 13 participating breweries for a free drink.

Connecticut’s “Drinks on Us” program offers a free beverage to anyone who purchases food and presents a vaccination card from May 19 to May 31. Participating restaurants decide whether the offer applies only to soft drinks or the hard stuff, too.

Roughly 45% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The campaign is starting to reduce daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths. But scientists say at least 70% of the population needs to be fully vaccinated to reach “herd immunity,” wrangle the virus and stop it from evolving into aggressive variants.

The U.S. is administering roughly 2.2 million shots per day, down from more than 3 million in mid-April.

Hoping to reach holdouts, President Biden is leaning on employers to offer sick leave to workers who want to get vaccinated and need time to recover from any side effects. A federal tax credit will reimburse small employers that provide the paid time off.

Mr. Biden said he is working with major sports leagues to offer ticket giveaways and in-stadium vaccination programs. Americans also should look for federal partnerships with grocery stores that offer the shots.

“It works both ways: Bring them in to get vaccinated, and when they’re in, they would get discounts to purchase goods in that store,” the president said.

A resident of Detroit will receive a $50 prepaid gift card for driving someone to a vaccination center, and a Domino’s pizza joint in Henderson, Kentucky, is offering a $100 Visa card to employees who get vaccinated.

Harris County, Texas, authorized $250,000 in spending on gift cards, bobbleheads of the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve and other incentives, according to local reports.

Many local incentives are brand-new, so it will take time to see how they work.

Employers have offered “wellness” incentives for years that fall flat, and some states aren’t offering anything of that size, said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

“I think most of them are using baby carrots — throwing a can of beer or one hot dog out there,” he said. “A lot of bars, you buy five you get one free anyway.”

Some research suggests bigger rewards can move the needle.

The UCLA COVID-19 Health and Politics Project surveyed 75,000 people and found a $100 payment made 34% of respondents more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Offering cash for vaccinations can backfire, however, because people think they would be paid to do something risky. UCLA found that 15% of those surveyed would be less likely to get the shots, meaning there was a 19-point net increase in interest under the $100 proposal.

State employees in Maryland will receive $100 for getting fully vaccinated and any required booster shots over the next 18 months, Gov. Larry Hogan announced this week.

“Incentives like this are another way to reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated, and we strongly encourage businesses across the state to consider offering incentives to their workers as well,” the Republican said. These vaccines are safe and effective, they’re free, and they’re readily available with or without an appointment.”

The reward is retroactive, so state workers who already have been vaccinated are eligible. Mr. Justice made the same deal with young West Virginians.

Mr. Caplan said it is important to reward people who stepped up early on.

“Not make them feel like chumps, you know what I mean?” he said.

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