State vaccine incentives do little to boost vaccination rates, research shows

Author: Megan Cerullo / CBS News
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Credit: WINK News

With millions of Americans still opting against getting vaccinated against COVID-19, retailers, companies and local governments are offering incentives including free beer, donuts and even cash to encourage them get their shots.

As the share of individuals who are vaccinated in the U.S. plateaus, at least 24 states have announced city- or state-wide incentive programs they hope will compel the vaccine-hesitant to roll up their sleeves. For example, the Mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, said the city is giving individuals who receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines $50 gift cards after each shot, or $100 gift cards to recipients of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“We understand that there are people who may still be inclined to become fully vaccinated, but simply haven’t made it a priority,” said Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. in a statement Tuesday. “We hope to convince them that now is the time to take this important step to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

The state of West Virginia in June announced cash lotteries, trucks, guns and scholarships for vaccinated residents.

Yet while some vaccine holdouts may be swayed by free cash or other offers, such programs have not been shown to boost vaccination rates, new research from the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics (CHIBE) at the University of Pennsylvania shows. The center compared daily vaccination rates in 24 states with rewards programs in June to inoculation rates in the 26 states without incentive programs.

“At least for these statewide incentive programs, there was no effect on the daily vaccination rates, which means we did not see more people coming into get vaccinated in the immediate aftermath of the introduction of these statewide incentives,” Harsha Thirumurthy, associate director of CHIBE, told CBSN.

Statewide incentive programs vary greatly from one another. Some offer free food or free entry into a state park; most commonly, states hold cash lotteries for vaccine recipients. A few states offer guaranteed rewards, like a gift card.

“But the bottom line is that it does not seem to be — at least at the state level — a very effective way to motivate people to get vaccinated,” Thirumurthy said.

Incentive programs offered by an employer could be more effective at boosting vaccination rates than a statewide lottery, which might strike many people as a long-shot, he added.

Tyson Foods, the biggest food company in the U.S., offered poultry workers who get vaccinated offered chance to win $10,000. Mutual fund and asset-management firm Vanguard Group is giving $1,000 to employees who demonstrate that they have been vaccinated.

Some residents also might not be aware of statewide programs, particularly if they’re not well promoted.

“It’s possible people have not necessarily heard about them — maybe there isn’t sufficient marketing or promotion of the campaigns. So it’s quite possible that at the city level — when a city introduces incentives or maybe even employers introduce incentives and you have local leaders promoting the existence of these types of incentives — that we see slightly more promising results,” Thirumurthy said.

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