NC leaders look for next steps as vaccination incentives end

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – After the state spent millions of dollars on lottery drawings and gift cards to try to incentivize people to get vaccinated, health experts are looking at what steps to take next as North Carolina’s vaccination rate continues to lag behind the rest of the nation.

With the summer cash card program having largely ended, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said 133,098 cards were distributed through the program, costing about $3.3 million.

Vaccination sites that had leftover cards are able to continue distributing them until mid-September, DHHS said.

“Vaccination is a lot more cost-effective than having a person go on to get COVID-19 and potentially seek healthcare and maybe even get hospitalized,” Dr. Pia MacDonald, an infectious disease epidemiologist at RTI International, said. “I think the incentive programs need to be highly tailored to the groups. But, really getting accurate information in ways that people will listen is a very important next step.”

The state increased the value of the cash cards for people getting vaccinated from $25 to $100 in early August after the Biden administration urged states to offer that amount. A person who drove someone to a vaccination site was also eligible for a $25 card.

The state also held four drawings to give away $1 million to eligible adults and $125,000 scholarships for people age 12-17.

“Guaranteed cash payments are the most promising incentive for increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake. Cash lotteries and giving away boats and beers may not be all that effective,” said Dr. Noel Brewer, an expert in health behavior at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Just give people $100 for sure. It’ll help them take time off work and pay for someone to take care of their kids. People really do need this sort of concrete support.”

The number of people getting first doses of the vaccine climbed over the summer not only due to the incentives program, but also concerns about the delta variant spreading and as employers and schools issued vaccination mandates.

On average, about 48,000 people each week got their first doses of the vaccine in June compared to about 87,000 people each week in August.

“The number of reasons is so wide that any program has to be multi-faceted,” said Dr. MacDonald.

As of Tuesday, about 66 percent of North Carolina’s adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 75 percent for the U.S. as a whole.

Dr. Bechara Choucair, White House vaccinations coordinator, said in an interview Tuesday that the Biden administration is looking at what steps to take next to try to boost vaccinations, noting key parts of that effort include combating misinformation and making vaccines as easily available as possible.

“We have to look at all the tools in our toolbox. For some people, incentives work. And, it’s important that we have that available to them,” he said. “We want to make sure that people have answers to the questions that they’ve had about the vaccine. We know there are still a lot of people who have questions about the vaccine, and we want to make sure that they have facts.”

The administration will simultaneously try to reach people who have not yet been vaccinated while others return to vaccination sites for booster shots.

“We’re going to continue to work with state governments, local governments, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, to make sure that people who are eligible for their booster shot can get it. We can and we will do both at the same time,” Dr. Choucair said.

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