Virginia is not planning cash incentives for vaccines but other benefits are being discussed

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- As demand for COVID-19 vaccines slows, some states are launching lotteries with million-dollar prizes to incentive people to get the shot.

At least for now, Virginia is not one of them.

“I don’t see us doing this large-scale use of federal funds or Virginia funds to incentivize that way,” Virginia’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in a recent telebriefing.

Those comments come as state data shows nearly 66 percent of adults in Virginia have gotten at least one dose so far, just short of President Joe Biden’s nationwide goal of 70 percent by July 4th.

According to Avula, the state is currently considering more targeted ways to cater to populations known to have high rates of vaccine hesitancy. For example, to incentivize people in rural areas, they’re looking at possible state park passes and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses.

Still, Avula has some concerns about using this approach, which he fears could alienate some people even more and set a bad precedent for future vaccination campaigns.

“There is some hesitation, at least on my part personally, to overly rely on incentives for something that is inherently good,” Avula said.

The state has offered some limited incentives already.

Back in January, the Virginia Department of Corrections started giving out free phone credits and care packages to convince offenders to get vaccinated as soon as possible. A VADOC spokesperson told 8News on Friday that nearly 18,000 inmates have been gotten at least one dose to date, which is about 75 percent of their most recent average daily total.

More recently, the Virginia Department of Health and FEMA collaborated with the Norfolk Tides, a minor league baseball team, to do on-site Johnson & Johnson shots at their home opener in exchange for free ticket vouchers.

Mike Watson, the team’s assistant general manager of sales, said 58 fans agreed to get vaccinated. He said here are no current plans to do another similar event, though they would be open to it.

A spokesperson for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, another minor league team, said they haven’t set up anything with VDH at this point.

Meanwhile, states like New Jersey and Connecticut are creating private-sector partnerships allowing vaccinated customers to get free drinks in certain places. There are no signs of that happening in Virginia yet either, according to business groups who spoke to 8News on Monday.

When asked about this in an email, VDH Spokesperson Melissa Gordan said, “We are considering targeted options to incentivize more Virginians to get vaccinated in collaboration with private sector initiatives. We will provide information as it becomes available.”

Virginians have mixed views on how effective an incentive-based strategy would be.

Robert Walters already got his dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said the public health benefits were enough to convince him but he thinks incentives could help motivate people who have otherwise been reluctant to make it a priority.

“It could definitely get more people who would be sitting there thinking ‘I don’t go out much what’s the point’ to decide ‘well maybe it is worth it,'” Walters said.

Matt Jennings isn’t planning on getting the vaccine unless it’s mandated to travel. He said he’s concerned about long-term side effects and he won’t be swayed by free stuff.

“Absolutely not. Once you have taken the vaccine, there is no going back. You can’t undo it. But if it’s safe long term you can always take it later,” Jennings said.

Avula said the state’s strategy is to continue to emphasize the safety and efficacy of the shot and to make clinics even more convenient. He said VDH is looking at doing more events at bars, ballparks, festivals and schools.

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