Is receiving a $100 gift card to get a COVID-19 vaccine an incentive? Or is it a bribe?
Or does it matter, as long as more people become immunized against the virus that continues to plague Monroe County with a transmission rate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deems high?
“It gets people’s attention and draws people in who might not otherwise be interested to have the conversation,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said at the weekly COVID media briefing Oct. 21 as he announced another incentive program. “And that’s what we found that a lot of community-based clinics is that the incentives were really driving people in, having a conversation about why the vaccine is important to them, how it would work and whether or not it’s the right thing for them to do.”
Bello announced that from Oct. 23 through Nov. 23, unless funding runs out, people receiving the Pfizer or Moderna two-dose series are eligible for a $50 gift card for each injection. People receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for a $100 gift card. The cards are paid for through federal COVID relief funds.
The list of sites offering the gift cards is at a link on the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub website, flvaccinehub.org/updates#thank-you. Links to a list of all vaccination sites and schedules for appointments is at the Monroe County site, www.monroecounty.gov/health-covid19-vaccine.
The county, and the state with its tuition offer, over the past few months has enticed with various incentives over the past few months.
“The last time this type of incentive was offered, several weeks ago, they saw a pretty dramatic increase in the number of people coming in and having that conversation and choosing to become vaccinated,” Bello said. “So we’ve got to follow the data and follow what works, and this is what works.
Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart said incentives “are key to getting people to the table to discuss the importance of vaccination and thank them for getting the shot.”
In a news release sent after Bello’s media briefing, Barnhart said she’s heard objections to “paying people to do the right thing.” She said underserved communities have been failed in many ways by government, which has largely not protected them from Covid. “Offering an underserved population money won’t fix the damage that has been done, but it will improve and save lives.”
She wrote that a community event in September that offered $100 incentive resulted in 74 people receiving vaccine. “This event was successful because of the $100 incentive, marketing and having the vaccine available right in the neighborhood at a fun event.”
She cited data showing the Beechwood neighborhood had a vaccination rate of only 40 percent as of Oct. 8, compared to more than 65 percent for the county as a whole. “Incentives are key to getting people to the table to discuss the importance of vaccination and thank them for getting the shot. I encourage the county to also invest in marketing and block party-type events.”
Half the eligible city population has at least one dose, according to Roc Health Data https://rochealthdata.org/covid-19-vaccination-rates//. At least one census tract in the western part of the county has a rate of 42%. Some other tracts sprinkled around the county are just about at 50%. One tract is less than 30%.
Bello did not have data about how well previous incentives worked. He did not say whether the county had a goal for how many people it wanted to have vaccinated during the next month. However, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s festivities are potentially risky events for people who are not vaccinated. In a previous weekly briefing, Monroe County Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza has said that household spread has been a source of infection.
The county has a transmission rate of about 200 cases per 100,000 population. That rate has been steady for several years.
“I am reassured that number are not increasing at this point,” Mendoza said. “There’s no evidence to suggest that they are. I think they’re decreasing slowly, but perhaps not as quickly as people would like.”