- As the demand for COVID-19 vaccines slows across the country, governments and businesses are offering a wide range of incentives to try to boost vaccination rates.
- In addition to a variety of cash lotteries, some of the offerings include air travel, college scholarships, state park passes, fishing or hunting licenses and complimentary food and drinks.
- Reportedly, the incentives have helped to increase vaccination rates, although there remains a significant segment of the population unwilling to take the experimental shots.
As the rate of uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations slows down in the United States, municipalities in states across the country are offering incentives ranging from food giveaways and savings bonds to million-dollar lotteries.
One of the earliest companies to participate in the “reward for vaccination” program was Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. It has been established that obesity is one of the primary risk factors for more severe COVID-19 infection,1 so it appears a little ironic that Krispy Kreme, not exactly known as a healthy food vendor, is offering a free daily doughnut to anyone who presents their COVID-19 vaccination card showing they have received at least the first shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single Johnson & Johnson shot.2 More than a one-time deal, customers at participating locations are eligible to pick up one free doughnut every day until the end of 2021.3
States Holding Cash Lotteries and More to Persuade Americans to Get COVID-19 Shots
Many states are sponsoring incentive programs to convince people to take one of the experimental COVID-19 vaccines being distributed under an emergency use authorization (EUS) granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to vaccine manufacturers.4 Ohio is offering a one million dollar jackpot to five vaccinated adults over age 18 or four-year college scholarships to younger participants. In May, New York gave out $25 scratch-off tickets with a chance at a five million dollar Mega Multiplier Lottery. New York’s current contest goes through July 2021 and will award ten $2,500 debit cards per week to winners who get vaccinated at one of the state-run vaccination sites.5
Other states have similar “lottery-type” COVID-19 vaccination contests, ranging from Kentucky’s distribution of 225,000 one dollar lottery tickets to California’s $116.5 million “Vax for the Win” campaign. Maryland is offering a lottery with daily prizes of $40,000 and a grand prize of $400,000 to adults who sign up for the COVID shot; Washington State has a “slew of vaccination incentives for residents, including a two million dollar lottery.”
Other states sponsoring vaccine incentives include Oregon, where vaccinated residents may win a one-million-dollar cash prize, with a $10,000 prize being offered to each of the state’s 36 counties. Younger vaccinated Oregonians (12 to 18 years old) will be entered into a drawing for five $100,000 college scholarships. In Colorado, one vaccinated resident per week will win a one million dollar prize. Other states with big money COVID-19 vaccine lotteries, often among other potential prizes, include Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia.6
Many States and Cities Offering Area-Specific COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives
Other states and cities are joining in all the time with schemes to create incentives so more people agree to get vaccinated, although they are not necessarily offering big cash prizes. The prizes are often reflective of activities the states are famous for: At Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, people are invited to take some laps before getting their shot.7 The Connecticut “CT Summer on Us” program offers incentives ranging from complimentary drinks for vaccinated patrons at participating restaurants to free tickets to popular recreation and tourist sites, such as the Mystic Seaport Aquarium, the local zoo or an amusement park.
The National Governor’s Association (NGA) summarizes perks and incentives by state, updating the list as things change.8 According to the NGA website, Arkansas gives a choice: a certificate for a fishing/hunting license or a $20 lottery ticket. Hawaii gives out a variety of vaccine-related prizes, from “Zippy’s” gift cards to resort stays, and airline miles and free trips from several participating airlines. Maine is investing $5,000 per organization to buy hunting and fishing licenses, wildlife and state park passes, and Seadog admission tickets for baseball games played at Hadlock Field, as well as gift certificates to L.L. Bean stores.
Minnesota boasts nine “reward choices,” from free or discounted drinks at participating vendors to state park passes, fishing licenses, and tickets to fairs and amusement parks. Nevada conducts random drawings with prizes including cash, college saving plans, state park annual permits and fishing licenses and will have a million-dollar drawing at the end of August. In New Jersey it was “shot and a beer.” Residents over age 21 could bring their vaccine card to a participating brewer for a free mug. Oregon offers ski trips in addition to their lottery.
In West Virginia, the offerings include not only cash lottery prizes but also the chance to win a full-ride scholarship to any West Virginia state college or university, a custom-outfitted truck, lifetime hunting and fishing license, or even a custom hunting rifles or shotgun. Elsewhere there are prizes including free hotdogs, free beer, Yankees and Mets tickets and “Shots for Shots,” which offers a free drink to beachgoers who attend a walk-up vaccine site in Miami.9
From Free Booze and Dancing in Las Vegas to Free Marijuana in Washington State: Get Your COVID-19 Shot Now
A few COVID-19 vaccine incentive programs really stand out. In Las Vegas, Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club held a pop-up vaccine event and awarded those who were vaccinated with a membership card giving them and five friends free admission, a free bottle of alcohol and a dance from a “vaccinated entertainer.”10 On Apr. 20, the so-called “high holy day for marijuana smokers,” activists in Washington DC and New York handed out marijuana joints at vaccine sites.11
Washington State also has a marijuana incentive in place. The state’s liquor and cannabis says adults can now claim a free joint when they receive a COVID-19 shot. The promotion, through July 12, is officially called “Joints for Jabs,”12 but has also been referred to as “poke and toke.”13
United Airlines held a sweepstakes promising the grand prizewinner a full year of free travel to any of the airline’s global destinations, in any class of service, for themselves and one traveling companion. Second prize is one round trip ticket to anywhere they fly, again in any class for the winner and a travel companion.14
Some of the incentives offered by other countries might be perplexing to an American. For example, in China is offering free eggs to their reluctant citizens. In parts of India, women receive a gold nose stud. Men get a hand blender.15
What’s the Upshot of Vaccine Incentives?
All of these prizes and incentives are aimed at increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates. At this point, most adults who wish to get the vaccine have already done it. It is those who are generally vaccine hesitant or those who are specifically reluctant to get this particular experimental vaccine that appear to be the target of these various incentives. Are they working?
Some claim incentivizing with cash or other types of rewards does work. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine considers their COVID-19 incentive program a “massive success,” saying, “Since the announcement, available data suggests that shots are up 49 percent among people ages 16 and over in Ohio and have increased 36 percent among minorities and 65 percent among Ohioans living in rural areas.”16
Other sources, however, disagree. A Politico analysis of federal and state data revealed that Ohio did show a brief bump in vaccination rates, but it soon tapered off. Elsewhere, the incentives are showing a diminishing return, primarily because the “movable middle—the group that is willing but not persuaded to get vaccinated—gets smaller and smaller every day.” According to Irwin Redlener, director of the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative at Columbia University, “People aren’t buying it. The incentives don’t seem to be working—whether it’s a doughnut, a car or a million dollars.”17
Two weeks ago, McDonald’s announced they are now teaming up with the California Department of Public Health to offer COVID-19 vaccinations at their restaurants in California. Anyone who gets a COVID vaccine at one of McDonald’s more than 70 participating locations in the state will receive a free item on their menu.18
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1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19. Mar. 22, 2021.
2 Lewis S. Krispy Kreme Will Give You A Free Doughnut Every Day This Year — If You’ve Been Vaccinated. CBS News Mar. 24, 2021.
3 Krispy Kreme. COVID-19 Vaccine Offer. 2021.
4 Frias L. Here Are All The States Offering Cash Prizes As An Incentive To Get The COVID-19 Vaccine. Business Insider June 3, 2021.
5 Patch.com. A Shot At $2,500: Here’s NYC’s Latest COVID Vaccine Incentive.
6 National Governors Association. COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives. June 23, 2021.
7 Scott K. A State-by-State Guide to Vaccine Incentives. Cheapism.com June 7, 2021.
8 National Governors Association. COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives. June 23, 2021.
9 Dodd S, Puhak J. How to Get Promotions, Prizes and Freebies with your COVID-19 Vaccine People Magazine June 8, 2021.
10 Price M. Las Vegas Officials Hold Pop-Up Vaccine Clinic At Strip Club. ABC News May 22, 2021.
11 Rosa-Aquino P. Lotteries, Doughnuts, Joints: The Weird Incentives to Get People Vaccinated. New York Magazine May 27, 2021.
12 Howard T. “Joints For Jabs”: Washington State Offers Free Weed To Get Vaccinated CBS News June 8, 2021.
13 Bacon J. ‘Joints For Jabs’: Washington State Turns To Marijuana Giveaways To Encourage Residents To Get Vaccinated USA Today June 8, 2021.
14 United Airlines. Your Shot to Fly Sweepstakes. 2021.
15 ITV. Covid Vaccine: The Weird And Wonderful Incentives Encouraging People To Get The Coronavirus Jab. May 4, 2021.
16 Rosa-Aquino P. Lotteries, Doughnuts, Joints: The Weird Incentives to Get People Vaccinated. New York Magazine May 27, 2021.
17 Goldberg D, Doherty T. Million-Dollar Lotteries Fail To Cut Through Vaccine Apathy POLITICO June 19, 2021.
18 Lonas L. California McDonald’s franchises offering free vaccines, food for getting shots. The Hill June 23, 2021.