Vaccine cash incentives and food rewards target the unvaccinated and ambivalent in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Get a coronavirus vaccine in Bucks County and treat yourself to free water ice. Take a photo in New Jersey and follow it up with free beer or wine. In South Philadelphia, last weekend’s jabs came with tacos, and in Fairmount Park, some people have $ 20 to get their second injection – if they bring a friend for a first.
As demand for vaccines dwindles and the country makes its way to mass immunity, vaccine suppliers and public health officials are getting creative, luring people in with food, alcohol , unique experiences and even cash.
New Jersey led the region with an incentive program that drew thousands of people in less than a month. Delaware this week made those vaccinated eligible to earn $ 302,000. Philadelphia has already partnered with the Sixers, Eagles, Flyers and Wawa to bring mascots, free game tickets and free coffee to clinics, a city spokesperson said, and is planning additional incentives.
The recent influx of incentives is another sign of the challenges facing the immunization effort six months after the start of the deployment. In Philadelphia, more than half of the city’s residents have had no luck, and board chairman Darrell L. Clarke said Thursday the city must “act creatively and aggressively.” City council member Wendy Bass introduced two bills that would give vaccinated residents a $ 50 credit on their gas or water bill or a $ 50 gift certificate from the city.
But Pennsylvania state officials haven’t implemented any incentive programs, saying people should be motivated by the promise of immunity and the guarantee that the state will lift its mask mandate when 70 % of adults will be fully immunized.
READ MORE: Vaccinations hit key milestone in Pennsylvania, but lag behind in Philadelphia and some rural counties
“Incentive programs are still widely considered,” Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said on Thursday. But “at this stage we’ve been so successful”, with the state on track to reach that 70% mark and lift the mandate by the end of June, the incentives don’t seem necessary. , she said.
Since people do not specify why they are getting the vaccine, it is difficult to assess the number of people that the prizes bring in. And providers say they don’t appeal to everyone, including those who are definitely opposed to getting the vaccine.
However, Philadelphia’s lobbying efforts “have caused an increase in the number of people who have visited these clinics,” said Department of Health spokesperson James Garrow.
The city is teaming up with the Sixers to hand out free playoff t-shirts and an autographed item to the Johnson & Johnson clinics at the Convention Center through Wednesday, Garrow said, and officials are reaching out to companies about future incentives. , not just for newbies. vaccinated but for all residents who have been vaccinated.
“Everyone who has helped bring Philadelphia closer to reopening and starting again to do the things we love deserves a thank you,” he said. “And if we can have this thank you to keep people coming back to restaurants and business districts, it’s a win-win.”
Incentive bills presented to city council could help close the racial divide in vaccine adoption, Bass and Clarke said when the legislation was introduced. Bills would have to go through a committee hearing, be approved by the full council and be signed by Mayor Jim Kenney before the program can begin.
READ MORE: Esperanza Successfully Vaccinated Latinos, But Black Philadelphians Still Lagging Behind
“These numbers are systematically skewed with people of color not even remotely close to where they need to be,” Clarke said, “so whatever we have to do to get that last group of people we have to do. .
There is evidence to back it up incentives. A random survey conducted last month by the UCLA COVID-19 Health and Politics Project found that a third of the unvaccinated population could be persuaded to get vaccinated with a cash payment. The incentive to be able to relax while wearing a mask – as Pennsylvania has promised – and social distancing were also effective, especially among Republicans.
READ MORE: Vaccination rates continue to rise in some suburbs of Philly, as others stabilize, facing issues of access and reluctance
Those in charge drew on these motivations. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice gives $ 100 savings bonds for ages 16 to 35 who get vaccinated, and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine gave residents vaccinated a chance to win $ 1 million and full college scholarships. New York is hand out free or discounted tickets to famous attractions, and Chicago will hold a series of concerts this summer for vaccinated residents only.
Few have predicted that so many Americans would need to be persuaded to gain protection from a virus that has changed lives and killed millions of people around the world. While other countries desperately wait for vaccines, the US is using it all free donuts and Beer at scholarship, Super Bowl vacation packages and tickets increase vaccination rates.
READ MORE: ‘The Challenge Ahead’: Vaccinations are on, but demand is down, leading Pa. And Philly to focus on tackling reluctance
The incentives may work for those who are not “completely resistant to it,” said Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who suggested the county use an incentive after speaking with unvaccinated residents in the city. twenties and thirties.
“Deep in their minds they know they’re going to get it, but they don’t see any urgency in it,” she said.
To attract them, the county has partnered with Bensalem-based Rita’s Italian Ice to offer coupons to vaccine recipients. For people who say they are waiting to get vaccinated, county health director David Damsker said, a simple little push can “get them out of the fence.”
Some Pennsylvania health care providers have said they understand people will not be swayed by the incentives.
A spokesperson for the Lehigh Valley Health Network said they want patients to decide “based on their personal preferences.”
In central Pennsylvania, WellSpan Health has found effective incentives in its mobile vaccination efforts in shelters, but has focused more on facilitating vaccination and reluctance to tackle declining demand. Likewise, a spokesperson for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said it is focusing on small clinics and community initiatives, using “an approach of education, encouragement and ease of access. “.
READ MORE: Grassroots efforts tackle vaccine barriers in Philadelphia area
In rural Bradford County, the Guthrie Clinic informally interviewed 28% of its 6,000 employees who had not been vaccinated and asked if paid time off would persuade them. The answer was no, said Michael Scalzone, director of quality.
Guthrie determined that the wider community, where more than 70% of residents failed to get vaccinated, would not be persuaded so easily either.
READ MORE: As Americans scramble to get vaccinated, many rural and conservative Pennsylvanians feel no urgency
“Externally, I think we’re still in a position where the majority of people in decline are less likely to be swayed by relatively small giveaways or tokens,” he said. “I think they have more philosophical hesitation with this vaccine.”
The incentives have had great success in New Jersey, where, like Pennsylvania, a 70% adult vaccination rate is within reach.
When demand slowed there, senior state officials collected data on unvaccinated residents and developed a series of incentives, said Daniel Bryan, senior adviser to Governor Phil Murphy. They determined that while a small number of unvaccinated people decided not to be vaccinated, about a quarter planned to do so, and a larger percentage were undecided.
So Murphy announced in early May that dozens of breweries and vineyards statewide would offer free drinks to newly vaccinated and all vaccinated adult residents could come in to win a dinner with the governor and first lady Tammy Murphy. And every New Jerseyan that got at least one shot before July 4th can also get a free season pass for its 51 state parks.
the Operation Jersey Summer The programs have attracted thousands of attendees since launching earlier this month, Bryan said, according to reports from brewery and vineyard owners, and more than 13,000 people have registered to win dinner with the Murphys. The incentives also generated a buzz, he said.
“Will the offer of a free beer convince someone who has already said not to get vaccinated?” Probably not, ”Bryan said. “But if the answer is, ‘I didn’t make it a priority, and now I can go to a few different breweries and try their beer,’ that’s a different scenario.”
There’s no question the incentives are working, Bryan said. When asked if they would consider offering any new perks in June, when the free drink program ended, he replied, “We would kind of consider anything.
Damsker from Bucks County said he would host something similar from Pennsylvania.
“If Pennsylvania had a million or two million dollar lottery that would be great,” he said. “It’s not going to hurt.”
Editor-in-Chief Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.