Shooting range passes, McDonald’s meals, $100 and more: Ohio officials incentivize COVID-19 vaccination
Courtesy of The Cleveland Plain Dealer
By Hannah Drown
June 18, 2021
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine’s Vax-a-Million idea spawned copycat lottery incentives across the country. Now, Ohio cities, counties and health boards have started their own incentive programs, offering everything from free McDonald’s meals to cash and even passes to a shooting range.
Officials say incentives may not change people’s minds if they’ve decided against vaccination, but they do encourage people who just haven’t gotten around to it.
Related: Ohio’s vaccine lottery is a game-show approach to incentivize people to get the COVID-19 shot. Will it work?
“It shows you how much the community can come together during a time of crisis,” said Stark County Health Department spokesman Chris Cugini. “If anything, this pandemic has shown us that we need one another more. I think that’s the biggest learning piece from this whole thing.”
As of Wednesday, more than 5,476,000 Ohioans have at least started the vaccine, or 46.85% of the state’s total population. Urban and suburban counties tend to have higher percentages of residents vaccinated, while rural counties are below average, according to the Ohio vaccination dashboard.
Here are incentives throughout Ohio:
Columbus City Council on Monday approved the Vaccine Green initiative, which will give up to $100 to residents who get vaccinated under the program.
Though many might see this as an incentive plan, Elizabeth Brown, Columbus City Council president pro tempore, calls it a vaccination affordability program.
“The vaccine may be free, but life circumstanced around accessing that vaccine are not free,” Brown said. “If you need to be able to afford the time off work to get your vaccine, we want to provide $100 so you can actually take that time to go get your shot.”
City Council is teaming up with Columbus Urban League to bring the program to fruition. When President and CEO Stephanie Hightower got to the office the morning after the initiative was approved, residents were already waiting outside of the Columbus Urban League building.
“There were two cars of people waiting outside asking, ‘Where do I go to get my vaccination so I can come get my $100,’” Hightower said. “I was shocked.”
Columbus Urban League will hit the ground running Saturday at a vaccination clinic at King Arts Complex during its Juneteenth Freedom Day event, helping residents sign up for Vaccine Green. Residents can also sign up for the program by visiting Columbus Urban League’s website or calling 614-372-2312.
Vaccine Green will be initially funded by the neighborhood initiative sub-fund, but if successful, City Council hopes to find a way to continue the program.
“We are excited to see where this goes,” Brown said. “If it’s popular and it’s making a meaningful difference in our vaccination rate then we would revisit how to renew it.”
In Northeast Ohio, Lorain County Public Health and Stark County Health Department have been running incentives partnering with local businesses.
With the help of the Community Foundation of Lorain County, Lorain County Public Health hosted vaccination clinics on June 12 at two grocery stores in zip codes with the lowest vaccination rates in the county. Anyone who got vaccinated on site received a $20 grocery gift card.
“They were excited and grateful for being rewarded, in a sense, for making the choice to get vaccinated,” said Katie Bevan, program manager for Lorain County Public Health. “A lot of those gift cards were going to people who could benefit from having $20 to buy groceries. It was a great opportunity to mesh incentives and the reward factor.”
Demand for vaccines began to decline in Stark County, causing the health department to find creative solutions to both incentivize vaccination and increase accessibility.
“Incentive programs and community partnerships are vital to breathing life back into vaccination demand,” said Chris Cugini, a spokesman for the Stark County Health Department. “If people can get something for it or we bring the clinic to them that has made a difference.”
The department partnered with Stark Area Regional Transit Authority and Tomtreyco McDonald’s to hold mobile vaccination clinics at eight McDonald’s locations on June 1. SARTA buses were used for vaccine administration and each person vaccinated received a coupon for a free meal at McDonald’s. A second round of vaccination clinics is scheduled for June 22.
“Who would think we’d be putting vaccination clinics on busses, putting them in McDonald’s parking lots and then giving a free meal,” Cugini said. “That’s not a normal occurrence. You have to think outside the box and you have to meet people where they are. You really have to do all that you can.”
Pop up clinics are also being run by the health department at several YMCA of Central Stark County locations. Vaccine recipients will get $25 in Y-Bucks to use toward a program if the individual is a member and toward the start-up fee if they are not.
The Clark County Combined Health District has been relying on data to shape its vaccination incentive programs. Using the social vulnerability index, a figure tracked by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is hosting pop-up clinics in neighborhoods with the lowest vaccination percentages. Last week the health department began offering $10 gas cards to those vaccinated in high-SVI areas.
“We started out with gas card and we figured out how stupid we really are,” said Charles Patterson, health commissioner at Clark County Combined Health District. “People were coming up saying ‘but I don’t have a car’ and we realized we’re in a high SVI area, not everybody has a car. So we went to walkable businesses and got $10 gift cards to those places.”
State research also showed that the younger Medicaid-eligible population has lower vaccination numbers, according to Patterson. To target that population, Clark County Combined Health District will be partnering with CareSource on Saturday to give out $50 Walmart gift cards to Medicaid recipients vaccinated at the Juneteenth celebration at Gammon House. The Community Health Foundation will be providing gift cards to local establishments for those who aren’t Medicaid participants.
“When we go into very specific areas where we have a mission to raise the vaccination numbers because they’re under served, we have to make sure we’re reaching deeper and providing additional incentives,” Patterson said. “We hope that we’re making a difference.”
Patterson believes incentives don’t change anyone’s mind who has decided against vaccination, but they do “push people over the edge who want it but haven’t gotten it yet.”
Greene County has created perhaps the most unique incentive program in the state with its “Shoot for a Shot” vaccination clinic. Those who were vaccinated at a June 12 clinic got a voucher for a free day of shooting at a local range, as well as access to certified firearms instructors, firearms and ammunition.
“We know that it is important to bring life-saving COVID-19 vaccines to people at the places they go, and offer incentives with the things they do and enjoy,” said Greene County Health Commissioner Melissa Howell in a press release. “Partnering with the Ohio Division of Wildlife to offer a day of free shooting for those who get the shot is a perfect match.”
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