Cooper Nearing Rollout Of Financial Perks For Vaccination

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that the state is nearing an announcement on further financial incentives to boost COVID-19 vaccine participation.

A rollout would likely come on the heels of a new pilot program set to end next week in four counties. Unvaccinated people can receive $25 cash cards at select locations in Mecklenburg, Guilford, Rowan and Rockingham counties while supplies last. Drivers who take others to get their first COVID-19 shot are also eligible for the $25 reward.

“We’re continuing to look at ways to incentivize people to get vaccinations and we’ve looked very closely at the drawings and other promotions that other states have done and have looked at their results, and hopefully we will be following some of their lead soon,” Cooper said.

The Democratic governor hinted at the idea of financial perks during a March 23 news conference, though he noted he’d begin considering them as supply started to outpace demand.

Vaccine distribution has stalled in North Carolina over the past month, and the state is near the bottom of the pack in the nation in its share of vaccinated adults.

At its peak, more than 400,000 North Carolinians went to state providers or federal partners for their first COVID-19 shot during the week of March 8, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. More data is still being collected, but figures the department released Wednesday show fewer than 69,000 residents got their first dose last week, which represents an 83% drop in weekly demand from the March 8 high.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to try to make sure that vaccines are convenient, they’re easy, that folks can access them, give some additional incentives beyond the fact that they protect you and your community,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s top public health official. “I’m still hopeful that there is progress for us to make here.”

North Carolina ranks as the 14th worst state in COVD-19 vaccine doses administered per capita, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state is now using census tract data to more precisely identify and target communities with large unvaccinated populations.

Cohen said Wednesday that participating vaccine sites in the four counties distributed almost 1,000 cards to vaccine recipients and more than 375 cards to drivers in the first week of the pilot program.

“The financial support is making a difference in getting more people vaccinated,” Cooper said.

The governor did not say whether the rewards would go to unvaccinated people who show up for a shot, existing vaccinated residents or a combination of both. Cooper said he’s reviewing potential legal issues and is discussing plans with state agencies, lawmakers and Council of State members.

While Cooper and other leaders tout the program’s early success, some are cautious about the impact the payment for vaccines plan can have.

“When we talk about paying people, we have to first question whether this is the most efficient use of money,” said Dr. Emily Largent, a Medical Ethics Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

She says the payment can unintentionally increase concerns and negative perceptions of the vaccine risk.

“It won’t help people who have misinformation or misunderstanding, gaps in their own knowledge say about when and where to be vaccinated or people who are just adamantly refusing to be vaccinated,” said Largent.