Cash prizes, free child care and even free beer are just a few of the incentives that the White House is rolling out this week to spur more vaccinations against Covid-19.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Declaring June a “national month of action,” President Joe Biden on Wednesday unleashed a torrent of new incentives to keep vaccination rates up and Covid-19 muzzled as the country careens toward the July 4 goal set by the White House of getting at least one shot into 70% of all U.S. adults.
“It is clearer than ever, the more people we get vaccinated, the more success we are going to have in our fight against the virus” the president said during remarks delivered from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Covid-19 has killed nearly 600,000 Americans but, after a year of intense politicization over mask wearing combined with the former administration’s largely patchwork pandemic response, the country’s dynamic in stamping out the virus has shifted dramatically.
Vaccines developed in record time and backed up by decades of scientific research into related viruses allowed the nation to pivot from square one to now more than 162 million American adults inoculated against the deadly disease.
That pool of 162 million equates to roughly 62.8% of all adults receiving at least one shot. As far as those who have received the full regimen — be it the double dose from Moderna or Pfizer and BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot offering — so far 133 million American adults have been fully vaccinated.
Last month, masking and social distancing restrictions were eased broadly around the country amid a massive plummet in daily cases rates — down 75% from the peak infection rates that the nation faced in April and over 90% as compared with January rates.
The country saw positive effects as well from the direction last month of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for fully vaccinated people to remove their masks at will in public spaces. The rate of shots being doled out daily in the U.S. had started to decline in April and even going into May. But when CDC Director Rachelle Walensky announced masking restrictions would be lifted, vaccine rates started to tick up before leveling off again.
That and the eligibility of young people 12 to 15 years old finally receiving their first doses helped drive overall vaccination rates up.
To complete the sprint to the July 4 goal, however, the White House said Wednesday it will make the next month about pulling out all the stops for the unvaccinated to get their shots.
To begin with, four of the nation’s largest child care providers — KinderCare, the Learning Care Group, Bright Horizons and the YMCA — will, from Wednesday until July 4, offer free drop-in appointments for parents or caregivers who are either getting a vaccination or recovering from the shot. Fatigue, headaches and body pain have been chief among the side effects from the drugs.
“For all the progress we are making in this country, if you are unvaccinated, you are still at serious risk of getting ill or dying or spreading the disease to others,” Biden said.
Thousands of pharmacies will also be open longer starting next week and will be open late every Friday in June, with many locations participating in 24-hour service so Americans who can’t get their shot during the day due to an inflexible work schedule will have a chance at night. CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Albertsons will participate.
The White House is also launching a program known as “Shots at the Shop,” an initiative partnered with the Black Coalition Against Covid and others, where participating Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons will display information about both the virus and vaccine as well as where to get a shot nearby.
A media blitz is underway as well. The National Association of Broadcasters is now coordinating with local television and radio stations to air segments in all local markets where celebrities join up with doctors and trusted public health experts to talk up vaccine benefits.
Speaking directly to people, particularly young people, who still have not been vaccinated, the president reminded them Wednesday that the effects of contracting the coronavirus long term are what should be feared.
“Even a mild case could be with you for months. It will have an impact on your social life. It could have long-term implications for your health that we don’t full understand yet,” Biden said. “It is true that young people are much less likely to die from Covid, but if you do not get vaccinated, you could get Covid sooner or later,” Biden said.
The White House also launched a Covid-19 College Challenge where schools of higher learning can pledge to get students vaccinated and then receive training sessions, toolkits and other materials from the federal government to assist their own efforts. About 200 colleges spanning 43 states have already signed a pledge. The program will also help stand up vaccination sites at colleges and universities.
Keeping up the tempo with businesses, meanwhile, the White House announced new incentives that companies will be offering over the next four weeks to get vaccines flowing. CVS has launched sweepstakes for free cruises, tickets to Super Bowl LVI and cash giveaways. Major League Baseball is giving free tickets to fans who get vaccinated and will offer onsite shots at games. Grocery store chain Kroger is now giving away $1 million to a vaccinated person each week in June and free groceries for a year to others.
And on July 4, a day the White House hopes will mark a significant milestone for the nation, Anheuser-Busch will give free beer to vaccinated adults 21 and over.