Allison Richter drinks her free shot at the bar after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine event at The Howling Wolf, a music venue and bar in New Orleans. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

Allison Richter drinks her free shot at the bar after receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine event at The Howling Wolf, a music venue and bar in New Orleans. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

Free rides, beer and savings bonds: U.S. cities use incentives to drive up vaccinations

‘The idea here is to bring the party, bring the vaccine and really have this be a convenient way for people to get vaccinated,’ says Chicago Health Commissioner

Free beer, pot and doughnuts. Savings bonds. A chance to win an all-terrain vehicle. Places around the U.S. are offering incentives to try to energize the nation’s slowing vaccination drive and get Americans to roll up their sleeves.

These relatively small corporate promotion efforts have been accompanied by more serious and far-reaching attempts by officials in cities such as Chicago, which is sending specially equipped buses into neighbourhoods to deliver vaccines. Detroit is offering $50 to people who give others a ride to vaccination sites, and starting Monday will send workers to knock on every door in the city to help residents sign up for shots.

Public health officials say the efforts are crucial to reach people who haven’t been immunized yet, whether because they are hesitant or because they have had trouble making an appointment or getting to a vaccination site.

“This is the way we put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and move on with our lives,” said Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner.

Meanwhile, more activities are resuming around the U.S. as case numbers come down. Disneyland is set to open Friday after being closed for over a year, while Indianapolis is planning to welcome 135,000 spectators for the Indy 500 at the end of May.

Still, rising hospitalizations and caseloads in the Pacific Northwest prompted Oregon’s governor to impose restrictions in several counties, and her Washington counterpart was expected to follow suit.

Demand for vaccines has started to fall around the country, something health officials expected would happen once the most vulnerable and most eager to get the shot had the opportunity to do so. Now the vaccination drive is moving into a new, more targeted phase.

“This will be much more of an intense ground game where we have to focus on smaller events, more tailored to address the needs and concerns of focused communities,” Stack said.

Nationally, 82% of people over 65 and more than half of all adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But while vaccinations hit a high in mid-April at 3.2 million shots per day on average, the number had fallen to 2.5 million as of last week. Some places are no longer asking for their full allotment from the government, and many large vaccination sites and pharmacies are letting people to walk in, no appointment necessary.

The slowdown in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to the situation in the many poorer corners of the world that are desperate for the vaccine.

Demand has dropped precipitously in the rugged timberland of northeastern Washington state, where Matt Schanz of Northeast Tri-County Health District is at a loss for what to try next.

Chicago officials are planning vaccination sites at festivals and block parties and are working with barbershops and hair and nail salons to pair free services with vaccination.

“The idea here is to bring the party, bring the vaccine and really have this be a convenient way for people to get vaccinated,” Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Other companies are getting into the spirit with marketing pitches.

Krispy Kreme began offering a free doughnut a day to anyone showing proof of having been vaccinated. In Cleveland, a movie theatre is supplying free popcorn through the end of this month.

Several marijuana dispensaries around the country are giving out cannabis treats or free-rolled joints. On April 20, marijuana advocates offered “joints for jabs” to encourage people to get vaccinated in New York City and Washington.

Some breweries around the country are offering “shots and a chaser.”

In Alaska, which traditionally has low vaccine confidence, the Norton Sound Health Corp., with a hospital in Nome and 15 clinics across western Alaska, has given away prizes, including airline tickets, money toward the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle, and $500 for groceries or fuel.

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