Get the vax, win a shotgun: US states get creative to encourage vaccination

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

First it was a lottery to win $1m in Ohio. Then another lottery was set up in West Virginia.

In Illinois people could get free tickets to the Six Flags amusement park.

In New Jersey it meant a free beer.

Related: Post-lockdown summer: Americans out for fun and with money to spend

The governor of Minnesota announced giveaways that included fishing licenses, gift cards and state park permits, among others.

And West Virginia upped the ante, adding the chance to win hunting rifles or shotguns.

Governors across the country are resorting to almost shameless incentives to lure Americans who haven’t gotten a coronavirus vaccine to willingly take a jab. And a few folks who have entered in these raffles have come away winning prizes – even $1m.

It’s partially a move of necessity. There are still Americans who are either actively refraining from getting a Covid-19 vaccine or just haven’t got round to it yet.

Businesses, too, have stepped in to nudge the unvaccinated. The percentage of a state’s population that has been vaccinated varies dramatically. Some states are approaching 70%, and others are still below 50%.

So governors have had to get creative. On Thursday, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state announced a “shot of a lifetime” state lottery for getting a vaccine, with prizes including a lottery for $2m, game systems and speakers, and “higher education tuition and expense assistance”.

In New Jersey, the governor, in partnership with the state’s department of health, set up a “shot and a beer” incentive program, which lets any New Jerseyan of legal drinking age who gets their first vaccine shot in May to also enjoy a free beer through breweries participating in the program.

That sort of approach got a shoutout from Joe Biden on Wednesday when he announced a month of action to reach the goal of vaccinating 70% of US adults by the Fourth of July holiday, with the president nodding to a beer-maker’s proposed giveaway by saying: “That’s right, get a shot and have a beer. Free beer for everyone 21 years and over to celebrate independence from the virus.”

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, echoed this on Thursday at the daily briefing.

“Free beer – that seems to be very appealing to the public, it seems, by [the] headlines,” Psaki said.

In a video that went viral in May, Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia sat at his desk with his English bulldog, named Babydog, in his lap.

“If you won’t do it for your family, you’ve got to get vaccinated for Babydog,” Justice tells the camera. “That’s all there is to it. Now she wants you vaccinated so badly and she’s going to absolutely be the one to lead us through on this all these incentives. And without any questions she’ll give you a high five right now but you have got to get yourself vaccinated.”

The incentive programs have become a bipartisan trend with governors from deep-red states like West Virginia or deep-blue states like California offering a range of inducements.

And already there have been some million-dollar winners. In Ohio, Jonathan Carlyle of Toledo won the state’s Vax-a-Million lottery.

“I kept hemming and hawing about it, and I work all the time, and when the Vax-a-Million thing started I immediately went down there and got it. It pushed me over the edge,” Carlyle told the Toledo Blade. He said he would use the money to pay off some bills and buy a house.

Not every governor has rolled out prizes. In Utah, Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, says he’s monitoring how effective the lotteries are.

“It would be really great if we didn’t need any incentives at all. Hopefully, not dying is a great incentive,” the governor said according to the Deseret News.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is considering a vaccine lottery.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure we can get as many shots in arms as possible,” Cooper said according to ABC affiliate KATV.

North Carolina already has a $25 cash-card giveaway incentive program for vaccine shots.

In South Carolina, the state house of representatives minority leader, Todd Rutherford, has proposed using leftover Covid-19 relief money to set up $1m prizes for people to get vaccinated. In an interview, when the Guardian suggested it was surprising that some people still had not been vaccinated, Rutherford lamented with a groan: “You and me both!

“The only way that I think we can start breaking through is to use what’s working in other states and I think Ohio saw a 29% uptick in their vaccinations because of this,” Rutherford said. “And if we can get that kind of uptick by spending a million, two million dollars, I think it’s a no-brainer.”

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