I have been put off by the various incentives being offered by government and private companies to induce folks who have failed to get vaccinated to get a shot.
The range of free incentives being offered by the states includes wine and beer, free groceries, tickets to state parks, lottery tickets, custom hunting rifles and custom hunting shotguns, doughnuts, Mets and Yankee tickets, university tuition/housing reimbursements, gift certificates and cash bonuses.
As vaccination rates slowed, various states introduced vaccine lottery programs – some with multi-million-dollar payoffs – after Ohio implemented a program and saw a 28 percent increase in vaccinations.
In New York, adults who get vaccinated at any of 10 state-run sites are eligible to receive a lottery ticket. The jackpot totaled $5 million; a prize the state hoped would counter a significant drop in vaccinations. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo touted a program in which New Yorkers who get vaccinated at ballparks are eligible for Mets and Yankee ticket vouchers.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan presented the state’s own vaccine lottery during a news conference with 30 drawings over a six-week period. The Maryland Lottery offered a $40,000 prize every day to a randomly selected vaccinated resident from May 25 to July 3. On July 4 the state will offer a jackpot of $400,000. The money, a total of $2 million, will be provided through the Maryland Lottery’s marketing fund. In addition, Maryland offered $100 payments to state employees who elected to get a coronavirus vaccine.
In Michigan, residents of the Detroit area are eligible for a $50 prepaid card through the Good Neighbor Program when they help get a neighbor vaccinated by scheduling and driving them to their first appointment. According to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the goal of the program is to enable those without access to personal transportation to get an appointment, while reimbursing neighbors for the time and expense of helping each other out.
In New Jersey, Rowan University is offering students up to $1,000 off their fall 2021 bill if they show proof of vaccination before August 7th ($500 off tuition and another $500 break for housing if they live on campus).
In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine offered a chance to win a $1million prize to entice folks to get a shot. Adults who received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine may enter to win a million-dollar prize, which will be doled out weekly for five weeks. Those who are under 18 and receive a vaccine also have a chance to win four years of tuition to an Ohio public university, which will be available to five individuals.
And California is offering the most lucrative incentives of all – $116.5 million in cash prizes and gift cards to residents who get the vaccine by June 15th. Ten Californians who become inoculated before June 15 stand to win lottery-style prizes of $1.5 million apiece, while another 30 people will each win $50,000. The first two million Californians to become vaccinated will each win $50 gift cards for cash or groceries.
Polling revealed that the best carrot that could be offered to those who are still unvaccinated would be a cash payment. No doubt with this in mind, West Virginia governor Jim Justice, decided to give young people ages 16 and above a $100 bond if they got an inoculation. He indicated that he didn’t feel the savings bond initiative was “a silver bullet, but it can absolutely be a tool that gets us across the finish line.”
I’m not in favor of providing rewards to get people who have refrained from getting vaccinated to change their behavior. I feel that we are sending the wrong message when we reward those who initially chose not to get vaccinated and then did so only after receiving a financial benefit.
Further, I don’t believe incentives will persuade those who are least likely to ever get vaccinated. The Covid skeptics, who hold deep-seated personal or religious beliefs about Covid-19, subscribe to one or another of the conspiracy theories about the virus. Those who don’t believe the science or feel that the government has no business whatsoever telling them what to do with regard to their health are very unlikely to ever get vaccinated.
I really worry about what will happen the next time there is a pandemic if we overly rely on incentives to try and achieve herd immunity this time. I suspect that the next time a pandemic strikes, and it will strike, there will be an increasing number of Americans who will wait to get their shot because they don’t want to miss out on the incentives that will be offered down the road. I envision more folks sitting back the next time there is a pandemic not only waiting to see what kind of experience their friends and neighbors will have with the vaccines, but also waiting to see what kind of goodies are being offered to take the shot.
If the various incentives prompt folks to take the vaccine, I could see this tactic employed in various other areas that would be even more disturbing to me. What about the IRS providing lottery tickets or a discount to induce those who failed to pay their taxes on time to pay up? What about courts providing lottery tickets to those who forget to pay their parking tickets? Or what about my home town, offering free tickets at our municipal pool complex to induce those who are delinquent on their property taxes to pay up?