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Beers, bucks and bonuses: States get creative to encourage vaccinations

Beers, bucks and bonuses: States get creative to encourage vaccinations
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It is not often that a state health department encourages residents to drink beer. But in New Jersey, the Department of Health will buy residents a pint of their own if those residents show proof they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“We’re not going to be afraid to try new things,” Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said as he unveiled the “shot and a beer” campaign.

Murphy isn’t alone: Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) administration is buying beers for Nutmeggers at any of dozens of restaurants that have signed up for the state’s #CTDrinksOnUs campaign. 

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“This is the place to be and drinks are on us. What more can you ask for?” Lamont said last week. “We want to do everything we can to encourage you to get vaccinated.”

In the face of lingering hesitancy, states and cities across the country are taking new steps to encourage residents to get their coronavirus vaccine shots as the nation races toward herd immunity. From direct cash payments to gift cards and savings bonds, a growing number of governors and local elected officials are turning to gentle bribery to boost their vaccination numbers.

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice (R) has rolled out a program that will give a $100 savings bond to younger residents who get vaccinated. Detroit residents can get a $50 prepaid debit card each time they bring one of their fellow residents to get a shot. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Monday announced a new $100 bonus for state employees who get jabbed, and a retroactive bonus for those who have already been inoculated.

“Incentives like this are another way to reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated,” Hogan said. “These vaccines are safe and effective, they’re free, and they’re readily available with or without an appointment.

Harris County, Texas, has set aside $250,000 to purchase gift cards, hold events and create incentive programs for residents who get vaccinated. In Wayne County, N.Y., between Rochester and Syracuse, residents can go to a special Star Wars-themed vaccine clinic on Tuesday, May 4th.

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The incentives come as the number of available vaccine doses begins to outpace the number of people willing to get a shot. After peaking at more than 4 million doses administered on April 1, the number of daily jabs has declined to about 2.5 million on average over the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Scientists expect the United States to reach herd immunity — the point at which a sufficient number of Americans are inoculated that the virus cannot find new hosts — when between 70 percent and 85 percent of the population is vaccinated. At the current pace, the United States would reach the 70 percent threshold by late July, and 85 percent by late August.

But the waning number of daily vaccinations shows that the supply of people who are willing to receive the vaccine is being exhausted. Nearly half of states have slowed their orders for new vaccines, and some states are returning unused doses to the federal government.

The rollout of coronavirus vaccines, three of which have been authorized for emergency use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration, has been the most successful element of the American response to a virus that has killed more than a half-million people in the country. Almost 44 percent of Americans have received at least one dose, according to CDC data, a higher percentage than any other major economic power except the United Kingdom and Israel.

But even within the United States, vaccination rates have varied widely. More than 60 percent of New Hampshire residents and more than 55 percent of those in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Maine have received at least one dose. In Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, fewer than one in three residents have received their shots.

Wisconsin has administered nine of every 10 vaccine doses they have been allocated, while New Mexico and Minnesota hover just below that threshold. Alabama and Mississippi have administered fewer than two-thirds of the shots they have received from the federal government.