If reducing your risk of getting sick, needing hospitalization and dying isn’t prize enough, how about $100?
That’s how much Richland County residents can receive if they get the COVID-19 vaccine on Oct. 30 during a vaccine drive at The Meeting Place Church of Greater Columbia.
“As part of the County’s incentive program, the first 250 new vaccine recipients who are Richland County residents will receive a $100 gift card,” according to a press release issued Monday by the county.
“Through this incentive program, County Council hopes to encourage residents to get the vaccine in order to raise the vaccination rate in Richland County,” said Councilwoman Yvonne McBride, District 3.
It’s not the first time incentives have been tried, of course.
Across the country, different states have offered everything from $1 million to free tickets to state parks to boost vaccination rates.
My personal favorite incentive program is in West Virgina, where Gov. Jim Justice’s popular English bulldog, Babydog, urges residents to get vaccinated.
The West Virginia Vaccine Sweepstakes “Do it for Babydog: Save a Life. Change Your Life’” featured an amazing array of prizes including free gas for 10 years and $150,000 for a dream wedding as well as four-year college scholarships and high-end luxury sports cars.
When promoting the vaccine, Justice has said,“If you won’t do it for me, if you won’t do it for your family, you’ve got to get vaccinated for Babydog. She wants you vaccinated so badly.”
So, do vaccine incentive programs work?
It seems to depend on the incentive in question.
Research just released by the Journal of the American Medical Association noted little increase in vaccination rates where the prizes came in the form of million dollar lottery-style drawings.
The study looked at announcements of cash drawings in 19 states.
According to the study, “No statistically significant association was detected between a cash-drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations before or after the announcement date, a period that included announcements of lottery winners for most lottery states.”
The researchers noted that many factors play a role in determining how effective the incentives could be.
“Lottery-style drawings may be less effective than incentives that pay with certainty. Another possibility is that drawings were not an informative vaccine promotional strategy and that more complete messaging on vaccination would have been far more effective.” In addition, “individuals who are hesitant to receive COVID-19 vaccinations may be influenced by vaccine misinformation.”
So, knowing you’ll receive a $100 gift card on the spot in Columbia versus maybe winning a random lottery drawing somewhere else could do the trick.
Whatever the case, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, better known in some circles as DHEC, knows that COVID-19 infection rates remain a concern, particularly as temperatures drop and we take more of our activities indoors in the coming months.
In an email, Dr. Edward Simmer, the agency’s director, said, “Cooler temperatures and the gatherings associated with the holiday season are of concern to us every year for the spread of the flu, but in particular this year we’re also concerned with limiting the transmission of COVID-19 due to the spike we saw after the holidays last year.”
Simmer added that residents can get detailed holiday guidance from the DHEC website.
Simmer’s tips included not attending social gatherings if you have any symptoms; wearing masks, especially indoors; hosting or attending events outdoors instead of inside when possible; and “most importantly, get your COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible if you have not already done so.”
More than 13,000 South Carolinians have died from COVID-19 and area hospitals continue to report that unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are filling their beds.
So, if it helps, you can add take full advantage of any incentive programs to the list.