To get pictures in arms, governments flip to cash in pockets

Millions of people in the US who haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine may soon have a new reason to roll up their sleeves: money in their pockets.

President Joe Biden urges states and local governments to join those who are already spending dollars on shots. New York, the largest city in the country, began giving away $ 100 prizes on Friday.

The president, health officials, and heads of state bet the financial incentive will encourage reluctant people to get the injection, as does the contagious and potentially more potent Delta variant sweeping parts of the country – especially those with low vaccination rates – and how the number of daily vaccinations drops sharply from its April high.

Jay Vojno, who received his vaccination in New York on Friday, said he thought some kind of incentive was coming so he was willing to wait until it did to vaccinate.

“I knew they would, so I just waited,” he said.

Bradley Sharp was among those given an injection in Times Square on Friday. The prospective college student had put it off but knew he needed to be vaccinated because the school he will attend requires it.

“I thought I’d come here and get it today and get my hundred dollars because I’m going to get it anyway,” Sharp said.

Other states are also starting programs to distribute money. New Mexico helped introduce cash incentives in June and launches another $ 100 spending on vaccinations on Monday. Ohio is offering $ 100 to government employees who get vaccinated.

Minnesota’s $ 100 incentive kicked off Friday, despite several people visiting Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, hadn’t heard of the money.

Vidiya Sami, an office worker from the Richfield suburb of Minneapolis, went to the airport because it was the only place that offered the “one-and-done” vaccine.

“That’s why I chose it,” said Sami.

She said she delayed the injection because at first she was afraid to “read especially about … other people’s side effects”.

“And then I kind of made myself more paranoid by joining Facebook groups and reading everyone else’s symptoms after they got the injections,” she said. “Basically, I was just scared, but the more I researched you know the benefits outweighed the disadvantages.”

Incentives aren’t new: States have tried lottery-style giveaways, free beer, gift cards, and more. Whether they result in more people being vaccinated is not clear, said Harald Schmidt, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a research fellow at the school’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics.

Turning to such measures suggests that governments face some degree of desperation in trying to get shots in the gun, he said.

“It is right to be alarmed,” said Schmidt. “It is right to think about how we can fix this ship.” He added that he understood the motivations behind cash incentives, but asked why they were needed in the first place.

“If we just stick needles in our arms, we haven’t made any real progress in the bigger picture, namely that entire communities lack trust in health systems or government,” he said.

The Biden government is counting on the incentives to work. In a statement this week, the White House cited a grocery chain offering its workers $ 100 to get the COVID-19 vaccination and then vaccination rates rose.

State and local governments can use the federal bailout funds to provide the $ 100, according to the statement.


Associated Press Writer Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis; David Martin in New York; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Andrew Welsh-Huggins of Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.