If you’re one of the few thousand people heading to see the Milwaukee Bucks play the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, May 2nd, you have a chance to get a very special souvenir during the game — your first dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
. The unusual vaccination drive is part of a host of new efforts across the US to get people their shots, whether that’s by bribing them with savings bonds in West Virginia or hosting vaccine clinics at professional basketball games in Wisconsin.
In the US, vaccine supplies are high, but demand is starting to taper off
, as my colleague Nicole Wetsman wrote last week. That means that people are getting a lot more creative about ways to convince people to get their shots. You know, in case the free beer
, free doughnuts
, and the chance to be protected against a virus that’s disrupted the world aren’t quite enough.
Some places are hoping that money will help sweeten the deal. West Virginians between the ages of 16 and 35 who get vaccinated will be eligible to receive a $100 savings bond from the government. It would cost the government about $27.5 million to give those savings bonds to all 380,000 eligible young people
in the state. That’s a lot, but only about half of what the state has spent on COVID-19 testing in the past year.
“It would be such a drop in the bucket compared to the ungodly amount of money we’re spending right now,” Governor Jim Justice told The Washington Post
. The state is trying to get at least 70 percent of its eligible population vaccinated. More than 78 percent of West Virginia residents older than 65 have gotten their shot, but other age groups are lagging. That’s why the savings bonds are focused on younger people, who are less likely to have gotten the vaccine.
“Our kids today probably don’t really realize just how important they are in shutting this thing down,” Justice said in a press conference
. “I’m trying to come up with a way that’s truly going to motivate them – and us – to get over the hump.”
West Virginia isn’t alone in considering financial benefits to improve vaccination rates. Grocery chain Kroeger is offering its employees $100
to get vaccinated. Several colleges and universities are offering gift cards, or other financial incentives
to their students if they get vaccinated. For some people who have been watching the course of the pandemic, the fact that so many groups are resorting to those measures is pretty depressing.
“The fact that we as a country have to beg or pay or bribe people right now to take this lifesaving vaccine, the optics are awful internationally. We look like a nation of adolescents, especially at a time when India, Africa and most of the world are clamoring for more vaccine supply,” Peter Hotez told The Washington Post
this week. Hotez, a vaccine expert at Baylor College of Medicine, thought the promotions were good ideas but found it unfortunate that they would be needed at all.
It may be unfortunate, but it’s a strategy that has been shown to work before. In the 1950s, efforts to get teens vaccinated focused on similar exclusive benefits — among other promotions, dances called ‘Salk Hops’
were only open to people who had gotten the polio vaccine. More recently, flu vaccinations increased significantly on campus when students were offered $30 to get a shot, according to a paper
authored by economist Erin Bronchetti in 2015. The same could hold true today, with a different vaccine.
“A financial incentive is helping to compensate people — students, in this case — for the benefit that they’re providing for their society or their college campus by getting vaccinated,” Bronchetti told Inside Higher Ed
in April. “In that way, a financial incentive for vaccination seems like a perfectly ethical and fair thing to do. It’s rewarding people for this contribution to the public good.”
Enticements are still outliers in the vaccine drive, and many more groups are taking approaches similar to the Milwaukee Health Department and their partnership with the Bucks. They’re more focused on making vaccines as accessible as possible by meeting people where they are; setting up mobile vaccine drives to take the vaccines into people’s homes, their neighborhoods, or even to a basketball game.
As of this week, 100 million people
in the US are fully vaccinated, and more than 1.13 billion shots have been given around the world. That’s pretty incredible for just five months since the first public rollout
. But there are still billions more people to vaccinate. It will take everything we’ve got — more supplies, more money, and more creativity — to give everyone at least a chance at vaccination.
Here’s what else is happening this week.