Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday a new cash drawing to incentivize coronavirus vaccinations across the state. The announcement comes as North Carolina has seen a significant drop in vaccine demand in recent months. Just 54 percent of North Carolinians 18 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to nearly 64 percent of adults nationwide.
North Carolina residents over 18 who have received their first dose of the vaccine will be eligible to win a $1 million cash prize, which will be given to four people. The winners will be drawn every two weeks over eight weeks. Those receiving the vaccine on or after June 10 will be entered twice, increasing their odds of winning.
While some may frown at the idea of incentives — including those who have already been vaccinated and think those who haven’t yet done so shouldn’t be rewarded — any plan that increases vaccination rates is a good one, at least in the name of public health.
President Joe Biden has made it a goal to deliver at least one shot to 70 percent of U.S. adults by July 4. But even if the country comes close to meeting that threshold, North Carolina likely won’t. At the current vaccination pace, it would take North Carolina five months to reach 70 percent of adults with just one dose, according to an analysis from The New York Times.
That’s not nearly soon enough.
Potentially dangerous variants are emerging and spreading quickly, including the Delta variant, or B.1.617.2, which has already become the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.K. A significant spread of that variant to the U.S. could be disastrous. “We cannot let that happen in the United States,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a White House briefing this month. The possibility, he added, is “such a powerful argument” to get vaccinated.
And, as many North Carolinians gather freely and prepare to return to school and work in the fall, vaccinations will remain crucial to prevent the virus from spreading. That means getting as close to herd immunity as possible before summer ends — and the best way to do that is by getting people off the fence and rolling up their sleeves.
Some states have already implemented cash drawings, to some success. Other states have tried a different kind of incentive, such as free Six Flags tickets in Illinois or the “Shot and a Beer” program in New Jersey.
While it’s too early to show the true impact of such incentives, early data suggests that they work, particularly among those who were apathetic toward getting the vaccine in the first place. In Ohio, the Department of Health reported that the state’s lottery campaign helped drive an increase in vaccination rates of more than 28 percent among residents 16 and older. Before implementing the program, the state was seeing a steady decline in vaccines. In other states, such as Colorado, the bump in vaccinations has been smaller. But officials say that without the lottery, interest in getting vaccinated would have declined.
It’s worth noting that direct payments may be more effective. North Carolina has tried this, albeit on an experimental basis, offering $25 cash cards at select locations in four counties. That incentive seems to be working, Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said. According to Cooper, the state plans on expanding it.
Regardless, a cash drawing is a step in the right direction. If it works, it’s good for public health, and spending now may mean saving the costs that would come with another COVID-19 outbreak, big or small. No one wants to see that, and now is the time to protect against it. Vaccination incentives, unproven as they might be, are worth a try.