Money, museum tickets and even marijuana are up for grabs as US states and companies try to entice hesitant people to get vaccinated against coronavirus.
While the US continues to administer millions of jabs per day, the focus has shifted from mass vaccination towards targeting individuals who are reluctant to get a vaccine, with concerns that new strains of the virus will develop and the country will not reach herd immunity if the majority of the population has not been immunised.
To tackle vaccine hesitancy, companies and local and state officials have designed eye-catching ways of attracting the attention of the uninoculated.
The state of Maryland on Monday said it would hand out $100 to fully vaccinated state employees — and penalise those who refuse to get a booster jab if US health agencies later recommend one.
“Incentives like this are another way to reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated and we strongly encourage businesses across the state to consider offering incentives to their workers as well,” said Maryland governor Larry Hogan.
In New Jersey, residents over the age of 21 who receive their first vaccine dose in May can take their vaccination card to one of 13 participating breweries and earn a free beer as part of the state’s “shot and a beer” scheme. In the city of Detroit, anyone who drives someone to get their vaccine can receive a $50 prepaid debit card.
“There shouldn’t be a single barrier for any Detroiter to get a vaccination, and certainly not transportation,” said mayor Mike Duggan.
In a sign of how the US vaccine rollout is now focusing on community hubs rather than vast vaccination centres, the BioNTech/Pfizer jab will be shipped in smaller quantities to pharmacies and smaller sites from the end of May. The new packages will contain 25 vials, while batches of 195 vials will also continue to be delivered where needed, Pfizer said.
US employers are also trying to convince their workers to get vaccinated. American Airlines gives its US-based employees an extra day off work and $50 in points, while Amazon is offering fully vaccinated front-line workers $80. Multiple retailers and restaurants with customer-facing employees including Lidl, Petco and McDonald’s have also tried to give incentives to their workers to get vaccinated.
Some US companies are using vaccine promotions as a marketing tool to entice customers in unconventional ways. Greenhouse of Walled Lake, a marijuana dispensary in Michigan, is giving out “pot for shots”. Since launching in February, the drugstore has handed out more than 25,000 pre-rolled joints, according to chief executive Jerry Millen.
“It’s been crazy, people are ecstatic,” he said. “If you choose to get the vaccination you get a pre-roll . . . I did it to reward people.”
Doughnut and coffee chain Krispy Kreme is offering a free glazed doughnut every day for the rest of the year to people who show proof of vaccination — an offer that Carly Mack has taken up five times so far.
The 21-year-old from Dallas said the free doughnuts were a welcome bonus to getting a jab: “I think it’s great that companies are giving freebies. whether or not people are getting vaccinated because they want to be safe or just for the free food.”
Mack said she got vaccinated to protect herself and others “but I definitely had the free doughnuts in mind when doing it”.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois is offering free tickets until the end of June to individuals with proof of vaccination, while people who get a jab at the NRG Park in Houston can win tickets to performances including Disney on Ice and rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival.
The Cleveland Indians baseball team in Ohio is offering $5 off certain tickets, while the Cincinnati Reds are selling some tickets at $10 to vaccinated fans.
Despite the abundance of freebies, some vaccine sceptics remain resistant. “Free doughnuts or $100 does absolutely nothing to entice me to get an experimental gene therapy shot for a disease that poses very little threat to me,” said one 32-year-old from Maryland who did not want to be named.
Nearly a third of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 147m people receiving at least one dose. On Tuesday, US president Joe Biden announced a change of vaccination strategy by aiming to vaccinate 70 per cent of the country’s adults with at least one dose by July 4.
“People are along a pretty wide continuum of motivation to get this vaccine and it’s a narrow slice of people for whom that kind of incentive will work,” said Alison Buttenheim, associate professor of health policy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
She said that although freebies are unlikely to change the mind of anti-vaxxers, for people who were considering vaccination, “novel, shiny things . . . can help with the follow through”.