States, Cities and Companies Offer Incentives to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Krispy Kreme started a trend in March, giving out free donuts to anyone who had received their COVID-19 vaccine. Chef José Andrés is the latest to follow suit, offering a $50 gift certificate to anyone who gets a vaccine on May 8 or later for any of the restaurants in his Washington, D.C.-area Think Food Group, until 70% of the U.S. population is inoculated.

Nearly one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but the speed of the vaccine rollout has begun to slow, and “enthusiasm may be reaching a plateau,” according to Kaiser Family Foundation polling. This shift has led local governments and others to employ new strategies to encourage people to get vaccinated.

[MORE: COVID-19 and Your State]

In West Virginia, which once led the country in vaccination rates and was one of the first states to open its vaccine eligibility to all adults, the state’s rollout has now slowed, spurring incentives from Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s office. Justice recently unveiled a $100 savings bond program for young people ages 16 to 35 who get a vaccine, which also applies retroactively. The median age of those testing positive for COVID-19 in West Virginia has also recently fallen to 34, creating a new emphasis on vaccinating younger populations throughout the state.

“I encourage everyone out there to help me really ring the bell as far as the number of folks we can get from 16 to 35 years of age,” Justice said in a press conference about the savings bond initiative. “This is not a silver bullet, but it can absolutely be the tool that gets us across the finish line.”

Maryland is also incentivizing vaccinations with $100 payments to state employees who elect to get a coronavirus vaccine. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan explained in a statement that “incentives like this are another way to reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated,” while encouraging businesses throughout Maryland to offer incentives to their workers as well. In Michigan, residents of the Detroit area are eligible for a $50 prepaid card through the Good Neighbor program when they help get a neighbor vaccinated by scheduling and driving them to their first appointment. According to Democratic Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the goal of the program is to enable those without access to personal transportation to get an appointment, while reimbursing neighbors for the time and expense of helping each other out.

Other states are taking more lighthearted approaches to rewarding those who are vaccinated, such as New Jersey’s “Shot and Beer” program. Like the name suggests, it offers a free beer from participating breweries to those of age who get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during the month of May, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy announced. In Connecticut, which on Monday became the first state to have 50% of adults fully vaccinated, those who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot can participate in the CTDrinksOnUs campaign, offering free drinks at some local establishments between May 19 and 31, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced. In Washington, D.C., Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a pop-up shot and beer event on May 6, offering walk-up vaccine appointments and a complimentary beer.

Some states are taking a different approach altogether, offering a chance to attend in-person events that have for so long been unavailable to residents. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New Yorkers who get vaccinated at ballparks are eligible for Mets and Yankees ticket vouchers, where the stadiums will soon be divided into vaccinated and unvaccinated sections.

And in Illinois, Chicago residents who are vaccinated will soon be eligible to attend the Protect Chicago Music Series, a monthly series of free concerts and music events available to those who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“We will never mandate that Chicagoans get a vaccine, but this is a creative way to incentivize people to step up and get it, especially younger people,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady in a release about the events.

[California and Texas Took Different Routes to Vaccination. Who’s Ahead?]

According to the most recent Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data, collected between April 14-26, 11.5% of U.S. adults 18 and older are hesitant about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Among those, almost 50% are concerned about vaccine side effects, while about 48% said they do not trust the vaccines.

The divide is also a political one. Polling has shown that Republicans are less likely to get a vaccine than Democrats, which is reflected in the rate of vaccinations in red states — states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Of the states with the lowest rates of vaccination, most are red states. Of the states incentivizing vaccines so far, most voted for Joe Biden.

For the moment, vaccine incentives may be a less controversial approach to get people vaccinated than mandates, such as vaccine passports, or proof of vaccination, which has already been a prolific and growing national debate. In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans to take action against vaccine passports in Florida, while governors in Texas, Utah and other states have made similar commitments or taken executive action.

[READ: States With Mask Mandates]

At the federal level, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in early April that there will be no federal mandate requiring vaccine passports. Perhaps the most widespread vaccination incentive seen thus far, however, came at the federal level with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest mask recommendations, approving those who are vaccinated to participate in a number of activities without wearing masks. President Joe Biden acknowledged the incentive this offers to Americans on April 27, saying, “The bottom line is clear. If you’re vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely, both outdoors as well as indoors.”

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