Is NC getting its money’s worth out of vaccine incentives?

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For every new vaccination started during the series of cash drawings, North Carolina wound up handing out an average of more than $6 in incentives.

State leaders say they’re happy with the bang from the buck they got.

“We’re seeing enough of an uptick recently that we’re pretty satisfied with the package,” said Hattie Gawande, a senior policy advisor for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

A review of state data found about 675,000 new vaccinations initiated — either the first dose of Moderna or Pfizer, or the only dose of Johnson & Johnson — between June 10 and Aug. 2, the Monday before the final drawing.

Dividing the $4.5 million in cash or scholarship awards — and with the full understanding that not every new vaccination during that time was motivated by those prizes — shows an average of $6.67 per vaccination.

That’s a better deal than in Ohio, which had 565,000 vaccinations initiated and wound up giving away an average of $9.91 apiece.

North Carolina’s cash card program is also a success, Gawande said, adding that the state has given out more than 38,000 cards worth $25 apiece — newly vaccinated people receiving $100 get four of those — with the total amount already nearing $1 million.

“And we really anticipate that number will double really quickly,” Gawande said. “We’ve dramatically increased our providers’ supplies for this week. We’re going to increase it again next week. So we only expect to see that number uptick.”

She says that incentive money comes from federal relief funds that were meant to promote vaccination efforts.

“This is kind of a natural purpose for that pot of funds,” she said.

And it’s still a small price to pay when compared to the costs of a COVID-19 infection, said Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International. Even if a case does not result in a hospital admission, it still often includes lab work, testing, contact tracing and other case investigation. 

A previous CBS17.com analysis found the lottery could make financial sense for the state if the increase in vaccinations was enough to avoid just 125 of the most severe cases of COVID-19 or about 80,000 cases.

“When I look at those numbers, and I look at what the costs are out of one case in North Carolina — not just from the medical care perspective, but even from the public health perspective, and all the work that goes into tallying up one case, the contact tracing, the investigation, (the incentive total is) really not a lot of money,” MacDonald said. “Because all of those other processes that come behind a case are very expensive. … We pay earlier, then we pay less.”

The number of first doses given across the state approached 80,000 in each of the past two weeks — double what it was during the first week of July, the apparent nadir of the vaccination rollout.

And while that cash no doubt motivated some people to get their shots, another motivation — concern about the delta variant — could be even stronger.

Averages in daily new cases and hospital admissions are at six-month highs and the overwhelming majority of those are among unvaccinated people.

“Delta (variant) is bringing cases closer to people at this point. More and more people are seeing their friends or family members infected with delta,” MacDonald said. “And knowing we have a vaccine that will prevent severe illness and death probably provide some motivation.”


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.


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