A little extra motivation

Dr. Narendra Parson prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Sanatan Dharma Temple in Norwalk, Calif., on May 8. Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Incentives for getting a COVID-19 vaccine are starting to feel like a dime a dozen: free beer or doughnuts, a free cruise or Super Bowl tickets, one year of free travel or the chance to win a million bucks through a lottery.

But will they work to get more shots in arms?

They may.

During the last few weeks businesses and states have announced giveaways to either get more shots in arms or reward those who already have.

That included an announcement Thursday in which customers who received or plan to receive a vaccine through CVS Health can enter a sweepstakes to win prizes from June 1 through July 10. The OneStepCloser sweepstakes is for those age 18 and older.

Prizes include five $5,000 giveaways for family reunions from CVS Health; 100 seven-day cruises for two in a balcony stateroom to your choice of destination from Norwegian Cruise Line, and a VIP trip to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles for two, including game tickets, by Procter & Gamble.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is giving away a free glazed doughnut when people show their vaccination card through the end of the year. Several beer companies, including Samuel Adams and Anheuser-Busch, are giving away free beer.

United Airlines announced that MileagePlus members who upload their vaccination card to their account by June 22 will be entered for a chance to win a round-trip flight for two or free flights for a year to any destination worldwide for themselves and a companion.

In West Virginia, the governor announced that residents ages 16 to 35 who have been fully vaccinated can register to receive a $100 savings bond or $100 gift card.

Last month, the city of Detroit announced $50 pre-paid debit cards for those who drive Detroiters to get their vaccines in a Good Neighbor program. The program does not apply to those who drive children to get inoculated.

But a lottery with cash prizes seems to be the way to go for several states, just not Michigan.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Michigan law “precludes us from doing that, but we are investigating that there are additional ways that we can encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, said Tuesday that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine “unlocked a secret” through the state’s Vax-a-Million lottery, which gives Ohioans age 18 and older with their first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot five chances to win $1 million and those age 12 to 17 who are partially vaccinated the chance to win five, four-year full-ride scholarships to any Ohio college or university.

The first adult winner announced Wednesday was Abbigail “Abbey” Bugenske, 22, a recent Michigan State University graduate.

Slavitt said during Tuesday’s briefing that the U.S. Treasury Department issued new guidance on these programs, providing additional information on how federal funds in the American Rescue Plan can be used to pay for vaccine incentive programs.

“And the bottom line is, with this guidance, we encourage states to use their creativity to draw attention to vaccines and get their states and the country back to normal as quickly as possible,” he said. “This includes lottery programs for vaccinated individuals, cash or in-kind transfers, or other monetary incentives for individuals who get vaccinated.”

Slavitt said in the days after Ohio announced its program, the state saw a 55% increase in its vaccination rate among adults ages 20 to 49.

“In several counties, the rate of vaccination doubled compared to before the announcement,” he said. “In other words, this program is working.”

Jake Harris, spokesperson for the Michigan Lottery, said Thursday that “any updates ... will come from the governor’s office.”

Whitmer’s spokesman Bobby Leddy told the Free Press in an email: “We know that the most significant incentive for getting a vaccine is to be able to get back to normal and safely do the things we love with our friends and families.

“We applaud Michigan businesses for stepping up to provide fun incentives to those Michiganders who have received a vaccine. We’re always thinking of innovative ways to encourage Michiganders to get vaccinated, and are reviewing our options at this time.”

Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, an internal medicine professor and director of the University of Michigan Center for Value-Based Insurance Design, said there is “tremendous evidence” to show that financial and nonfinancial incentives, in general, work.

“This is just an extension of that, where people go beyond free,” said Fendrick, who has been studying incentives to improve consumer behavior regarding uptake of health services for three decades.

Fendrick said he likes the idea of lotteries, which several states including Ohio, Oregon, Maryland and New York, have put into place tied to COVID-19 vaccines.

He thinks a lottery would prove productive in Michigan, with a couple of caveats.

“It must include all of us who are vaccinated,” he said. “People are only eligible for winning the lottery or other incentive when they complete the vaccination process.”

That means both doses of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

State and federal officials are pushing for 70% of the adult population to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the beginning of July.

Nationally, 62% of adult Americans have received at least one dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Michigan, more than 4.7 million Michiganders age 16 and older, or 58.5% of the population, have received at least one dose of vaccine as of Thursday, according to the state’s dashboard.

But there is vaccine hesitancy, with supply exceeding demand.

Bay County Public Health Officer Joel Strasz said community foundations and businesses see the value in incentives, such as a recent effort there where prizes, including a two-year lease on a 2021 vehicle, were given away to county residents who had at least one dose of vaccine.

Strasz said nearly 2,000 people responded to the drawing and it drew social media and news attention. At the same time, officials were hoping to get about 2,000 people vaccinated in an effort to get shots in arms in areas where there were gaps. But, Strasz said, only about 300 people got inoculated in that campaign.

However, he said, “I would encourage the folks at the state to pursue that private partnership if they want to provide incentive or some type of lottery system. I think it can be easily done. Even if it brings 5% more people in, that’s probably 5% you wouldn’t have had.”

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