MONTREAL — With demand for first doses of COVID-19 vaccine lagging among the 18-to-39 age group, Quebec health officials are hoping incentives such as free hotdogs and the promise of prizes will encourage younger adults to get the shot.
While close to 80 per cent of eligible Quebecers have been vaccinated with at least one dose, some younger adult age groups are still slightly below the 75 per cent target.
On Thursday, government data showed that only about 4,100 first doses were given in the previous 24 hours to people between the ages of 18 and 39, who are being overtaken by the 12-to-17-year-old cohort.
In recent weeks, the province has been working to market the vaccine to younger adults through advertising and social media posts as well as walk-in clinics with extended hours, but it appears to be upping its efforts.
On Wednesday, the province announced that it would set up a clinic to vaccinate hockey fans gathering outside the Bell Centre for the next Montreal Canadiens playoff games and would even offer a free hotdog to those who get the shot.
At the same time, the Canadiens released a video of 20-year-old rookie Cole Caufield, who wears the number 22 and promised to give away 22 pairs of game tickets and 22 hockey jerseys to fans who show proof of vaccination.
Speaking outside the Bell Centre, Health Minister Christian Dubé said the initiatives are designed to reach the roughly 150,000 adults under the age of 40 who have yet to sign up for a shot.
"We’ll come to them," said the health minister, who donned a Caufield jersey for the occasion.
Other health authorities are also getting creative by offering music and zootherapy at vaccine sites, reaching out through Facebook and Instagram and offering extended hours at walk-in clinics.
The Montérégie region south of Montreal announced Wednesday that it would hold a contest to allow vaccinated individuals who post selfies online to win a chance to meet comedian Mathieu Dufour. Others are sending mobile vaccine clinics to parks, beaches, job centres and other places where young people gather.
"We are aware of the importance of adapting our vaccine offer to younger generations, who are starting summer jobs, who have just finished school and who have less flexible schedules," wrote a spokeswoman for the Quebec City health authority, which has deployed a brightly coloured "Vaccin-O-Bus" to popular spots.
"Many of these youth aged 18-to-34 want to get vaccinated but won't necessarily take the steps to get a vaccine."
Epidemiologist Nimâ Machouf says that while younger adults are less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19, it's important that they get vaccinated in order to prevent the transmission of the virus, especially because they tend to have a lot of contacts.
However, she believes the vaccination campaign is successful so far, and that the province's population is answering the call to be vaccinated. "When I look at the rhythm of vaccination, it's going very well," she said.
Machouf said there could be several reasons why some younger adults are hesitating. She said some might have been worried by the confused messaging surrounding the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, or by claims circulating on social media that vaccines cause sterilization.
(There’s no evidence that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, affect fertility, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)
While she's in favour of the mobile clinics, Machouf isn't sure gimmicky incentives such as prizes are the most effective way to reach younger adults. She also believes younger adults will be lining up to get the shot once they realize it may be required to travel internationally.
Instead of offering flashy incentives, Machouf said the government should be focusing on shortening the interval between first and second doses of COVID-19 and ensuring people show up for their second shot, in order to prevent the transmission of new COVID-19 variants that may be more resistant to a single dose.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press