As states around the country seek ways to boost their stalled vaccination efforts, they are offering a wide variety of incentives to motivate the reluctant and indifferent to get their shots.
Minnesota joined the fray last week with its own incentive program. To be eligible, Minnesotans 12 years of age and older must get their first vaccination between May 27 and June 30.
The incentive program was announced by Gov. Tim Walz last May 27 as part of the state’s effort to reach 70 percent of its adults vaccinated by July 1. As of Sunday, it was at 65 percent.
Under Walz’s incentive program, the newly vaccinated can choose from the following prizes:
– Great Lakes Aquarium pass
– Mall of America Nickelodeon Universe
– Minnesota fishing license
– Minnesota state parks pass
– Minnesota Zoo admission
– Northwoods Baseball League tickets
– Minnesota State Fair tickets
– $25 Visa card
As a consolation to those already vaccinated, Walz announced May 28 that state residents 21 or older who are vaccinated can get a free drink at a few Minnesota breweries and wineries – one per customer.
Many unvaccinated Minnesotans were likely disappointed with Walz’s incentive plan to lure them into getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Why couldn’t he have copied Ohio’s Vax-a-Million effort by drawing a $1 million winner per week for five weeks with only those who have been vaccinated eligible?
Or maybe he could have looked to Maryland, which is conducting a $40,000 daily lottery drawing for 40 days for people who have been vaccinated. There is a final $400,000 prize winner to be selected at the end of the 40 days.
Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom drew for 15 winners of $50,000 prizes for getting vaccinated. In Colorado the first $1 million winner in a new vaccine incentive lottery was drawn.
Most vaccinated Americans feel a little cheated by their governors, Republican and Democrat, who have announced programs solely, or primarily, aimed at the unvaccinated. It leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many who acted responsibly in getting vaccinated to now reward those whose sense of community obligation was lacking.
There are those who also see the incentive programs potentially creating future problems.
Why should a person get vaccinated early during the next pandemic when there is a chance they could enter a lottery for $1 million? We are being told we may need a COVID-19 booster vaccination in the coming months. Should people get them when they become available or wait until the state decides it needs to motivate them with a financial giveaway?
Those who already had the disease and recovered developed antibodies that protect them, but many also got the vaccine to ensure robust protection. Will such a group decide to wait for the incentives in the future before getting vaccinated?
As has been true throughout this pandemic, the goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible as quickly as possible. We protect ourselves, our loved ones, and the vulnerable citizens among us when we are vaccinated.
We understand the public health necessity of getting people vaccinated to stop the development of new COVID-19 variants. Given enough opportunities, the virus will find ways around the defenses built into the current vaccines and antibodies from previous infections. If that happens, we just might be right back to where we were in March 2020 with schools and businesses shut down; senior citizens dying by the thousands; ERs overwhelmed and people dying unnecessarily due to lack of prompt care. We could see a variant rise that is more deadly to young people.
If it takes incentives to get the doubters and vaccine fence-sitters to get the shot, roll them out.
There is also the savings we will see with more people vaccinated.
The taxpayer-supported Medicare program has averaged $24,000 per COVID-19 patient in 2020. Medicare paid out $16.6 billion on 691,000 claims.
Ohio justified giving away millions to get its citizens vaccinated by pointing to the savings. It costs around $247,000 to care for an uninsured person severely ill with COVID-19, according to FAIR Health, a consumer organization that tracks healthcare expenses.
It estimated the cost of the average person requiring a ventilator in an ICU at $194,252, while the cost of average nonICU hospital care was just over $41,000 in Ohio.
Minnesota has had just over 6,500 people treated for severe COVID-19 in intensive care units while nearly 32,056 people have been hospitalized. Consider the savings to taxpayers and the sustainability of our hospitals if we can reduce the number of COVID-19 patients they must admit.
Ohio and other states say funds for the giveaways come from federal COVID-19 relief programs, not state tax dollars. They are still tax dollars, whether paid to the state or federal government.
The incentive plans are aimed at the young who see little need to get vaccinated since the disease has little impact on their age group. They target the vaccine hesitant who wanted to make sure it was safe before they got it. They seek to motivate the indifferent who don’t see themselves vulnerable to COVID-19 or believe getting it will be no big deal.
The incentives seem to be working as states that have implemented them see a slight uptick in the number of people getting vaccinated.
We see the necessity of the vaccine incentive programs, but we also feel uneasy about the message they send.
Dr. Peter Hotez, who has been on numerous television networks during the pandemic, told CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith,” that: “When people are clamoring for vaccines in India and in Brazil, it just makes us look like a nation of sulky adolescents … so if it’s absolutely necessary, sure, although it’s tough to swallow.”