West Virginia is offering $100 savings bonds to 16- to 35-year-olds who get vaccinated. Maryland will pay fully vaccinated state employees $100. Breweries participating in New Jersey’s “Shot and a Beer” program give out free drinks to legal adults who get vaccinated in May. Connecticut and Washington, D.C., are also running free-drink promotions for the inoculated. Lawmakers in Harris County.
Tex., approved a $250,000 budget for vaccine perks like gift cards and freebies. Detroit is handing out $50 prepaid debit cards to pre-registered individuals who drive a neighbor to a vaccine clinic. The subtext of these programs is clear: The lifesaving benefits of COVID-19 vaccination have not been enough to convince many people to get their shots. And now, if the U.S. wants to reach herd immunity, it may need to get creative.
But will a free drink or a $100 payment actually convince anyone to get vaccinated?
“It gets at the low-hanging fruit”—people who aren’t actively opposed to vaccination but may have been too busy or apathetic to make an appointment, says Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist at the Federation of American Scientists. “The hardcore denialists are not going to budge after being bribed with a beer or a $100 savings bond. Still, the “low-hanging fruit” population is a large one. More than half of the U.S. population has not yet received a single COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Even though they are now available to adults nationwide—but U.S. Census Bureau data show that less than 15% of U.S. adults identify as vaccine-hesitant. A recent Axios-Harris poll found that 31% of unvaccinated Americans say they’ll either “get the vaccine whenever they get around to it” or “will wait awhile and see before getting the vaccine.” That suggests a significant number of people fall somewhere between eager for and opposed to vaccination. Incentives could help bring them in the door.