Free beer? Cash? NC officials, eyeing other states, consider incentives to encourage vaccinations

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations slowing in North Carolina, the state could offer incentives to try to encourage more people to roll up their sleeves. 

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Thursday officials with the Department of Health of Human Services are trying to determine what incentives may be most effective. He said it will likely begin with a pilot program to see how well it works before rolling it out statewide.  

“I think it’s important that we do what we can under the law to get more people vaccinated in North Carolina,” he said. 

Various states are trying incentives as a strategy to drive up vaccination numbers. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced Wednesday the state is planning a lottery to give five vaccinated adults $1 million and also offering five full college scholarships to the state’s public universities.  

West Virginia is offering younger people $100 savings bonds. New Jersey recently launched its “Shot and a Beer” program.  

“We will be looking carefully at Ohio to see what their uptake of vaccinations actually is,” Cooper said. 

The state has seen a significant decline in the number of people showing up for first doses of the vaccine in recent weeks. 

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, during the week of April 5, 336,696 people got their first dose of the vaccine from state and federal programs. That dropped to 129,814 people two weeks later. Last week, 71,918 people got their first dose. 

Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) said incentives should be a part of the overall strategy to boost vaccinations. 

“I’m not sure if we want to follow Ohio,” he said. “Incentives will help. I’m a big fan of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.” 

He suggested offering gift cards and encouraging more employers to give people paid time off to get the vaccine. 

As of Thursday, 51 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.  

“It’s just crucial if we’re going to get to herd immunity that we figure out ways to incentivize people to go get the vaccine,” Nickel said. 

Nickel said he anticipates DHHS will make an announcement soon about an incentives program.  

Republican leaders in the General Assembly said they don’t think the focus should be on financial incentives. 

“I think that could very well be counterproductive,” said Republican Senate leader Phil Berger. “Folks who have not been vaccinated see the state offering a free cup of coffee, they’ll say I’ll wait until they offer a six-pack of beer. And then, those folks say, no I’ll wait until they offer $100.”  

Berger has been vaccinated and has appeared in a public service announcement with Cooper and other legislative leaders urging people to get the vaccine.  

“Make the case for people of the importance of being vaccinated. And, we need to actually accept the fact that being vaccinated provides protection,” he said, criticizing fully vaccinated elected officials who continue to wear masks in small gatherings with other people who are also fully vaccinated. 

Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R), who said he and his family are all vaccinated, was also critical of offering financial incentives to get vaccinated.  

As CBS 17 reported earlier in the week, the House passed a bill attempting to block Cooper from using his emergency power to issue a mandate that people get the COVID-19 vaccine despite Cooper never having suggested taking such a step.  

“I’d say at this point we should stay the course with what we’re doing and ensure that everybody who wants a vaccine gets it, and that it’s being done safely and efficiently,” he said. “I think the conversation really needs to be on the person having that personal choice to decide what’s right for them, what’s right for their children, what’s the right decision for them.” 

In an interview on CBS This Morning Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked about offering incentives. 

“We have incentives to get people into clinical trials, and we have incentives for people to get involved in accepting interventions. So, it’s not a unique concept,” he said.  

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