Beer? Money? US states and cities offer incentives to get Covid-19 vaccine

The strategies come as public health experts acknowledge that the United States is unlikely to achieve herd immunity. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Scoring a dose of the coronavirus vaccine in the United States, once the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket, has started to resemble something else: a clearance sale.

Some states and cities, which are struggling to fill appointments as the demand for vaccine wanes, are even turning to an array of not-so-subtle incentives to get shots into the arms of more Americans.

New Jersey is offering a "shot and a beer" for residents who get their first vaccine dose in May and visit participating breweries in the state. Detroit is giving out US$50 (S$66) prepaid cards to anyone who drives a resident to a vaccine site.

And as an enticement for state employees to get the vaccine, Maryland is offering a US$100 payment, Governor Larry Hogan announced Monday (May 3).

"Incentives like this are another way to reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated, and we strongly encourage businesses across the state to consider offering incentives to their workers as well," Mr Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement. "These vaccines are safe and effective, they're free, and they're readily available with or without an appointment."

The strategy comes as public health experts acknowledge that the United States is unlikely to achieve herd immunity, the point at which enough Americans have either been vaccinated or infected to mitigate the virus.

It also is a reminder of the hesitancy of people to get the vaccine and the challenge leaders face in convincing them that it is safe.

But will the enticements work?

"As humans we often respond better to carrots than sticks," Dr Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University in Rhode Island who specialises in public health research, said on Monday.

Dr Ranney said that vaccination campaigns were more effective when they use language that does not imply a sense of duty or obligation to get the shot. Saying that there is a "vaccine reserved for you" is a better approach, according to Dr Ranney, who said she was concerned about continuing hesitancy over vaccination.

But Professor Arthur Caplan, a medical ethics expert at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, questioned the effectiveness of incentive programmes.

"I think the resistance and hesitancy is deeper than you're going to be able to solve with a US$100 incentive or something like that," Prof Caplan said Monday.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said on Monday that residents 21 years of age and older who get at least one dose of a vaccine in May were eligible for a free beer if they show their vaccination card at one of several participating breweries.

The programme, introduced in conjunction with the Brewers Guild of New Jersey, naturally carries the moniker "a shot and a beer".

Connecticut has a similar programme, in which residents who have received at least one dose of a vaccine can get a free beverage - alcoholic or non-alcoholic - at participating restaurants in the state for part of May.

Detroit announced last week that it would offer US$50 prepaid gift cards to anyone who drives a resident to select vaccination sites run by the city's Health Department.

There is no limit on how much people can earn driving Detroit residents to get vaccinated, but those who make US$600 or more will have to fill out a W-9 form, city officials said.

In one of the more widely publicised plans to boost vaccination rates, Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia, a Republican, said last week that the state would give US$100 savings bonds to 16- to 35-year-olds who get a Covid-19 vaccine. On Monday, Mr Justice said that he was looking at other incentives amid difficulties trying to set up a savings bond programme, WV News reported.

In Los Angeles, a City Council member and a multi-faith cultural arts centre offered a free bag of produce to anyone who visited their free vaccine site on Friday.

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