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Businesses jumping into vaccination effort see it as win-win

Businesses are getting more involved with the fight against the coronavirus by offering incentives for people to get vaccinated in a move they see as helping both public health and their bottom lines.

The promotions range from on-site vaccinations to coupons and freebies. The New York Mets and New York Yankees announced this week they will open their stadiums as vaccination sites for fans before games, part of a coordinated effort with the state’s health department, while some bars in Washington, D.C., are offering free beer at vaccine pop-up sites.

From a financial perspective, the marketing efforts by companies give them a way to bring in more customers or get regular customers spending more. Those moves are coinciding with a slowdown in vaccination rates that employers would rather see increase so that states will lift more of their COVID-19 restrictions.

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“Businesses in the private sector absolutely have an important role to play in this, and they're able to engage people in different and at times more substantive ways than the government and public health messengers right now,” said Andrew Jarrell, chief strategy officer at the communications firm Group Gordon.

“The smart ones and the ones that are doing the right thing will really embrace and play that role and in a way that obviously makes sense for them and for their constituents,” he added. 

The NFL got in on the action this past week by announcing fans can enter a lottery to win free tickets to next year’s Super Bowl. The promotion requires participants to share their stories of why they got vaccinated or will soon do so.

As a smaller perk, the NFL is giving vaccinated consumers 25 percent off purchases made on its website later this year.

Retailers are also focusing on discounts.

Target said this past week that it is offering $5 coupons to customers who get vaccinated in its stores, while Albertsons Companies is offering up to $200 in free groceries for customers who get their vaccines at in-store pharmacies in supermarkets including ACME, Safeway and Randalls.

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Businesses are looking inward as well when it comes to vaccination incentives.

Insurance giant Cigna recently announced it would pay its U.S. employees $200 and provide paid time off to get vaccinated. That move came on the heels of President BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE saying employers should give their workers paid leave to get shots.

“If someone's living paycheck to paycheck and they have to miss a day or two because of the vaccine, it's very important that they have paid sick leave,” said Julia Raifman, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.

“That's something that businesses can do that can really reassure people that they won’t have a lower paycheck, get even further behind on their rent or have trouble putting food on their table if they get vaccinated and have side effects from it,” she added. 

Companies such as Amazon, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Ford and Microsoft have established on-site vaccination clinics or are holding events that allow employees to get their shots at work.

“We must make it easier for people to get vaccinated. Workplace vaccine clinics make it easy for anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to get the shot. Businesses are ready and willing to take on this challenge, and they have the reach, relationships and trust to help overcome distribution barriers and vaccine hesitancy,” a U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokesperson said.

The vaccine push also reflects a concern in the business community that failing to stamp out COVID-19 will hamper the recovery.

Economists of all ideological stripes have said from the outset of the pandemic that bouncing back from the recession is impossible without containing the virus.

Researchers have also found substantial evidence that the spread of COVID-19 suppresses economic activity, even when controlling for health restrictions.

The rapid rebound of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2021 was driven by a combination of accelerating vaccinations, more federal stimulus and the loosening of pandemic-related restrictions. While the economy is expected to keep up that momentum, April's surprisingly lackluster job gains emphasized the importance of boosting vaccination rates.

The U.S. added 266,000 jobs last month, far less than the 1 million-plus gain projected by many economists. While there is no single cause of the undershoot, economists widely agree that health concerns are playing a role.

“If workers are vaccinated themselves, they might be more willing to reenter the workforce or enter some of these occupations that require a lot of person-to-person contact. And on the same hand, consumers might also be more likely to visit those places,” said Krista Ruffini, an assistant professor at Georgetown University.

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“All of these types of actions can help facilitate a strong economic recovery,” she added.

More than half of all U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of April, but only 9 percent of those who haven’t are planning to get vaccinated immediately, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday. Another 13 percent said they would never get one, and 9 percent said they would do so only if required.

Even so, the number of vaccine-averse Americans has fallen steadily, if slowly, from the start of the year, and Raifman said she sees reason for optimism in the recent push from businesses to close the gap.

“Most people will take the vaccine if we make it really accessible to them,” Raifman said. “I'm just happy to see us celebrate each other and support each other.”