Sep 2, 2021 - COVID

How effective were North Carolina’s vaccine incentives?

vaccine cash incentive

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

State health officials have repeatedly upped the monetary ante to incentivize people to get a COVID-19 vaccine this summer.

  • The incentives ranged from a “Summer Card” effort giving $100 to everyone who got a vaccine, to a lottery offering all vaccinated individuals the chance to win $1 million.

We wanted to know: How well did these incentives work? And how much did the state spend on them?

  • Conversations with various local leaders underscore the incentives did work at least in some communities.

What’s happening: The state began giving away $100 cash cards to everyone who got a COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 4. And everyone who drove someone to get a vaccine got $25. The promotion ended on Aug. 31.

As of Aug. 30, the state had distributed 133,098 in cards, amounting to $3,327,450, DHHS spokesperson Bailey Pennington said.

  • Separately, the state also had a $1 million lottery and $125,000 college scholarship program to incentivize vaccines. That effort ran from June 23-Aug. 4.
  • Between those four drawings, the state gave away $4.5 million in cash and scholarships.

Zoom out: The NC DHHS is working with a team from the UNC Gillings School of Public Health to conduct a formal evaluation on the impact of its vaccine incentives. That evaluation should be done within a month or so.

  • The NC DHHS declined to make any representatives available for an interview.

The Summer Card program grew in popularity when the state increased its total from $25 to $100 in early August, Pennington said, suggesting that the incentives may have encouraged more people to get the shot. Many of the participating providers contacted the DHHS about running out of cards in a single day, she added.

“The week Summer Cards increased from $25 to $100, several of our large participating vaccine providers saw increases of 91-98% in the number of Summer Card recipients compared to the prior week,” Pennington said.

The $100 incentive has helped encourage vaccinations among people of color and low-income residents in the Charlotte area, says Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg branch of the NAACP.

  • Since June, people of color have made up over half of the people who’ve been vaccinated through Atrium Health, the system recently reported. A third of those vaccinations have gone to Black residents.
  • Mack would like to see the state increase the amount it offers in vaccine incentives. They should come in the form of gift cards to places like Food Lion and Walmart, she added.

“When folks are living in poverty or are working poor, every dollar matters,” Mack tells Axios.

Of note: The state funded the $1 million vaccine lottery through federal coronavirus relief funds. For the Summer Card program, NC DHHS set aside roughly $14 million in CDC-authorized immunization funding.

By the numbers: Vaccinations ticked upward after the start of $1 million vaccine lottery, which ran from June 23-Aug. 4. Vaccinations have increased every week since the first week of July, when the state administered 82,521 shots.

  • Last week, the state administered 157,800 doses — still far below the week of April 5, when vaccines were in the highest demand. That week, the state administered 696,032 shots.
  • To date, 63% of the eligible population of North Carolina (12+) is at least partially vaccinated, state data show.

Dr. David Priest, chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer at Novant Health, said he didn’t notice an increase in the number of individuals seeking vaccines as a result of the state’s incentives. Those programs were “worth doing,” Priest said. He’s just dubious as to whether they’d convince people who are hesitant about vaccines.

“We’ve kind of entered a phase now where people who really wanted a vaccine got it and those who were adamantly opposed to it didn’t,” he told reporters this week.


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