Donuts, Drop-Offs & Beyond: Incentives Are Growing to Get Shots in Arms

President Joe Biden heard from a group of state governors Tuesday about how pop-up clinics and prizes are supplementing the data– and community-driven effort to get their citizens vaccinated.

English Norman and her 12-year-old daughter, Jane Ellen Norman, pose for a photo outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday. Jane Ellen and her 14-year-old brother Owen were vaccinated this morning, only a day after U.S. regulators expanded use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot to those as young as 12. (AP Photo/Angie Wang)

WASHINGTON (CN) — About 1.9 million Americans got their first dose of the vaccine against Covid-19 on each day a month ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but this past week immunizations have clocked in only at around 730,000 people a day. 

With supplies of the shots remain still steady and the majority of the country still unvaccinated, the drop-off shows that states need to get creative to meet the Biden administration’s goal of having 70% of American adults half-vaccinated by Independence Day — especially now that vaccination rates are sharply dropping. 

Sitting down virtually with a bipartisan group of governors, President Joe Biden put a focus Tuesday on how the U.S. vaccination campaign is shifting now to put states and private companies behind the wheel. In the most literal sense of that metaphor, Uber and Lyft will offer free rides to vaccination sites from May 24 to July 4. Biden also announced that new funding will be available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for community-outreach efforts, and community colleges will begin to host federally supported vaccination sites. 

“I think we get a lot more done at the state level in terms of cooperation among Democrats and Republicans than we do federally,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday. “None of this could have worked without your leadership. … You’re responsible for saving thousands of lives.”

The governors spent most of today’s virtual meeting laying out steps they are taking at the state level to build off the federal response. 

“We’ve moved from the vaccine-ecstatic and the vaccine-excited phase, and we are now in the vaccine-busy or vaccine-curious phase,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox told Biden, emphasizing the need for good data that can be used to promote the vaccine for more hesitant people. “They don’t refuse to get it; they just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Cox said that through Utah’s research, they have found that people trust their family doctors, local community leaders and neighbors more than they trust the federal government — so any organization, church or library that requests a pop-up vaccine clinic can get one. 

“It really does get down to — that person who is allegedly an anti-vaxxer — it gets down to convenience,” Biden said in response to the discussion on pop-up sites.  

Other states described similar success stories with pop-up vaccination sites, with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz trumpeting his state’s offer of the vaccine at St. Paul Saints games.

“If they need another reason, I tell them to go get vaccinated so you’re alive to vote against me in the next election,” Walz joked. “I don’t care, i just want to get it done.”

Governor Janet Mills of Maine said that in order to incentivize vaccination, the state is giving out free fishing and hunting licenses, tickets to ball games and races, and gift cards to L.L. Bean.

“We call it ‘your shot to get outside,’” said Mills. 

“I imagine that will really work,” Biden responded. 

As of today, more than 150 million Americans (46%) have gotten at least one shot, and 115 million (35%) are fully vaccinated. But, efforts need to be ramped up in communities of color, where vaccination rates lag, said Dr. Marcelle Nunez-Smith, chair of the White House’s Health Equity Task Force, who also joined the call. 

“We recognize in our country that zip code is still a stronger predictor of health than genetic code,” Nunez-Smith said. “So we anchor in location and place to make sure we are getting those resources to the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities.”

Nunez-Smith said that the administration is setting up direct allocation to community health centers, and about 70% of vaccinations at the community health centers have been administered to people of color. 

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said the state has worked hard to make sure that their distribution was equity-focused through the use of data, walk-ins, pop-ups and mobile clinics. The state also set aside 25% of its vaccines at the very beginning to ensure equity-driven vaccine access. 

Now, 70% of adults in all 23 sovereign nations in the state will be fully vaccinated before the July 4 goal. 

“It’s made a remarkable difference, because they were hit hard,” said Grisham. 

“Every time someone has a good idea we are deploying it,” Grisham continued. “I heard about hunting and fishing licenses — I’m on it.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine also discussed efforts in their states. 

“This is maybe the most significant major logistical undertaking we’ve ever done — short a war — here,” Biden said. “I think the lessons we’ve all learned from this are going to apply to a whole hell of a lot more of what we do in terms of delivering health care. I’m not talking about government spending, I’m talking about being able to communicate and connect with people about basic health care.”

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