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Weeks after announcing that four N.C. counties, including Mecklenburg, would begin offering $25 gift cards as incentives at COVID-19 vaccination clinics, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a statewide cash is expected to announce a vaccine lottery Thursday afternoon.
That would super-charge the incentives meant to attract people to get the coronavirus vaccine.
“We’re pulling out all the stops,” Cooper said Thursday. The first drawing will be on June 23, and drawings will continue every other week on Wednesdays until Aug. 4.
The state’s first vaccine incentive, the $25 gift card program, was launched May 26 in Rowan, Guilford and Rockingham counties in addition to Mecklenburg.
Anyone who has already gotten a COVID-19 shot will be automatically entered to win, Cooper said. And anyone who gets their first shot starting Thursday going forward will be entered twice, getting an extra chance at the winnings, Coooper said.
Vaccinated North Carolinians age 18 and over have chances to win one million each, and North Carolinians age 12 to 17 years old have a shot at winning $125,000 for college education, Cooper said.
“The sooner you get vaccinated, the more chances you have to win,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said Thursday.
‘Promising’ results from gift cards
And Cooper announced Thursday that additional N.C. counties would begin offering the 425 gift cards, following the “promising” results of the pilot program.
As of June 8, StarMed Healthcare in Mecklenburg County had given out $74,300 in gift cards — nearly 3,000 cards to vaccine recipients and drivers. And Mecklenburg County Public Health began offering $25 gift cards at certain vaccine clinics starting June 2.
The gift cards incentive has proven to be even more effective than expected, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told county commissioners Tuesday.
“All of our clinics where we’ve had cash cards available over the past week have seen significant increases,” she said.
That includes one clinic at the Northwest Health Department. The week before offering gift cards, that clinic gave vaccines to two people, Harris said.
That number grew when the clinic began offering gift cards. Last week, the clinic served 40 people, she said.
Still, state data show the rate of vaccinations in Mecklenburg and the other three counties offering gift cards have slowed in recent weeks.
But the gift cards have only been made available at a few clinics in each county.
A nudge to those on the fence
Rockingham County’s Division of Public Health has offered 150 gift cards since May 25. Besides its own clinics, the county also hosted clinics at two community sites, McMichael High School and Mill Ave. Recreation Center, on June 5 with the gift cards.
“Personally, I think it’s an awesome incentive the state is offering. Especially for those (who) are on the fence and/or have transportation as a barrier,” county Health Education Program Manager Katrina White said in an email.
The county handled 747 vaccines in May, and 186 in June as of Thursday, including second doses. But White said appointments are fluid and it is too early to tell the effect of the incentive.
Officials from Rowan and Guilford counties did not immediately respond to the Observer.
NC COVID vaccination rates
As of Wednesday, 54% of North Carolina residents age 18 and older have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot, according to state Department of Health and Human Services data.
That’s still far below President Joe Biden’s proposed vaccination goal of 70% of adults vaccinated by July 4.
And that’s one reason the governor is pushing for additional vaccine incentives.
“Remember, when you get this vaccine, not only are you protecting yourself, you’re protecting your family, your friends, and anybody else who you might come in contact with,” Cooper said June 3. “… We have people dying, most every day — still — of this virus, so it is not over.”
The (Raleigh) News & Observer’s David Raynor contributed