- States and businesses are providing monetary incentives and material goods to adults willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Experts say incentives will need to be coupled with other approaches to increase access to the vaccines.
- President Joe Biden announced a nationwide plan to get at least 70% of the population one COVID dose by the fourth of July.
In the early days of vaccine rollout, COVID-19 vaccines were so scarce that only the most vulnerable groups like older adults and healthcare workers qualified for the shot. But now, as demand wanes, states and businesses are offering monetary incentives as a means to get people fully vaccinated.
“The state of Maryland—a very large employer—recently offered their workers 100 dollar gift cards for them to get vaccinated,” Kristen Ballantine, vice president of state and federal government relations at HMS, tells Get Meds Info. “So employers have been largely using financial incentives and paid time off in order to get their employees vaccinated.”
She adds that state and local governments are using similar tactics. For example, in West Virginia, Governor Jim Justice announced in an April 26 briefing that the state will offer $100 savings bonds to individuals ages 16 to 35 who get their COVID-19 vaccine.
While some incentives are effective at getting people vaccinated, Patricia A. Stinchfield, CPNP, MS, president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and nurse practitioner at Children’s Minnesota, tells Get Meds Info they are not one size fits all. “When the vaccine first rolled out, incentives were not necessary,” Stinchfield says. “The supply was so low, it made people scramble and drive across the state just to get their vaccine. That pressure is down now. And so you really need to be nimble and adjust your incentives as the supply and demand changes.”
Financial incentives aren’t the only kind of incentives being offered. Businesses are also taking the initiative to increase vaccination uptake by offering free or discounted products. “Vaccination sites have been offering a free beer or a free shot [of alcohol],” Ballantine explains. On March 22, Krispy Kreme made national news when they began offering free glazed doughnuts to individuals with COVID-19 vaccine cards.
Data from the University of California Los Angeles COVID-19 Health and Politics Project found that a cash payment would make unvaccinated people more likely to get a shot. Of the 14,557 participants, 34% answered that they were more likely to participate if offered $100. The likelihood decreased as the dollar amount decreased.
According to Stinchfield, states and businesses are prioritizing incentives to not only protect the health of the community but to prevent another shutdown. “Businesses don’t want to go through being shut down again,” Stinchfield says. “So it is a smart business approach to make sure that you have a healthy workforce.”
However, Ballantine says that incentives alone may not increase vaccine uptake. “There is a subset of the population who is hard-nosed,” Ballantine says. “Experts are thinking about how you turn that population to accepting the vaccine.”
She adds that it will take more of a social science and psychological approach—it’s not enough to offer incentives without having a trusted individual reach out to vaccine-hesitant people. Ballantine suggests trusted healthcare providers engage with their patients. “What we have seen is patient engagement by a trusted source does work,” Ballantine says. “When you couple direct engagement with an incentive, that moves the needle even further.”
Biden’s Latest Plan
Experts hope that convenient and easy access to the shots, coupled with incentives, can turn the tide on vaccine skepticism.
Although vaccine incentives are currently determined on the state level, President Joe Biden announced a federal initiative on May 11 aimed at accelerating the U.S. vaccination rate nationwide. His plan is three pronged. First, it involves supporting free rides to vaccination sites from ride-sharing companies such as Lyft and Uber. According to Biden, people will be able to select a vaccination site nearest them and ride there free of charge.
The plan calls for vaccine sites at community colleges across the nation to reach students. The Biden Administration will partner with retail pharmacies and community colleges with high enrollment rates to administer COVID-19 doses.
The third component of Biden’s plan includes additional funding for state, tribal, and local governments to expand community outreach and engagement efforts. The funding, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will cover in-person, phone, or online community engagement costs. Other activities supported by FEMA funding include vaccine education, filling vaccination appointments, arranging for employees to get vaccinated, healthcare provider outreach, and partnership development with faith- and community-based organizations.
Since the onset of vaccine distribution back in December 2020, more than 46% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose. Biden hopes that his plan will inch the U.S. closer to a goal of getting 70% of the adult population at least one shot by July 4.
“We are in a race against variants,” Ballantine explains. “We want to get as many people vaccinated as possible before variants have too much of an opportunity to mutate in such a way that vaccines would be ineffective.”
Stinchfield stresses that while vaccines are an individual risk benefit decision, vaccine status impacts everyone. “Because this is an infectious disease, a highly transmissible disease, it’s really not only an individual decision,” Stinchfield says. “It’s important for you. It’s important for your own family. It’s important for your community.”
What This Means For You
If you’re not yet vaccinated, or want to help someone else get their shot, you can find available COVID-19 vaccine appointments near you on VaccineFinder.org. If you want to help encourage hesitant people in your life to get vaccinated, our COVID-19 vaccine Healthy Conversation Coach can guide you through what to say—and what not to say—to someone still on the fence.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.