May 28, 2021 - Health

Companies, states up the ante on vaccine incentives

Data: Ohio Department of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Ohio Department of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

For those who haven't been convinced to get a vaccine yet, companies have begun offering everything from date nights to tropical vacations to coax Americans to get the shot.

Why it matters: The giveaways are just the latest examples of increasingly lucrative rewards, including Ohio's $1 million lottery prizes, aimed at luring the hesitant.

It started this spring with free donuts from Krispy Kreme. But now more companies and states are upping the ante.

  • CVS Health's prizes include giveaways of $5,000 for family reunions, one-week cruises, dates from dating app Hinge and more.
  • United Airlines is offering MileagePlus members who upload their vaccination cards by June 22 a chance to win free flights for a year.

Since Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the $1 million lottery and chances for college scholarships on May 12, nearly 2.8 million Ohioans registered for the lottery by getting a shot, the state said. It announced its first winners on Wednesday.

  • Ohio is still a bit behind the national average, with only about 40% of its population fully vaccinated. But the state has seen a recent uptick.

Other states appear to be taking notes.

The other side: Some Republicans in Ohio have called the lottery 'a frivolous use of taxpayer dollars,' the Guardian writes. They are pushing legislation that would ban government, insurers or businesses from offering incentives for shots "or even requesting that people get vaccinated," according to the Ohio Capital Journal.

The cynic might say these incentives are simply great marketing, said Emily Largent, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania who has written about paying people to get vaccinated. But giveaways can be effective among those people who don’t have any deep-seated reason not to be vaccinated.

  • "Offering some of these benefits is a way to make the vaccine more appealing in the here and now because we’ve given someone a tangible reason to get vaccinated right now," Largent told Axios.
  • But Largent is less convinced about the value when the government offers perks for shots compared to other public health tools. "I have yet to see statistics that have been terribly compelling about how many people are holding out because they needed to see a little benefit," she said.

One of the most successful incentives so far may have been the CDC's announcement that vaccinated people could take off their masks. Online interest in vaccines spiked right after that announcement, according to new CDC data reported by CNN.

  • "This shows incentives matter," Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University School of Medicine, told CNN.
Go deeper