If you need another reason to help someone get vaccinated against COVID-19, I’ve got one for you: a $51 Visa gift card.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration just launched a new initiative where anyone who helps someone who’s unvaccinated get the shot (which, by the way, is free) by accompanying them to one of three sites can get a $51 Visa gift card. The person who gets the shot receives a gift card too. Individuals can get compensated for helping up to 11 people get the shot, meaning someone can make up to $561.
To participate in the vaccine buddy program, the helper needs to be at least 18 years old and have a D.C.-issued ID. D.C. residents who are over 12 years old and get the shot qualify to receive a gift card. The government is offering gift cards through Saturday, July 17.
The three sites handing out gift cards are R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center at St. Elizabeths, Anacostia High School, and Ron Brown High School. People who were vaccinated beginning June 19 at these sites can also enter a raffle for a chance to win a new car, $10,000 for groceries, and a year of free Metro bus and train. Winners will be announced throughout the month of July, beginning the July 6.
The giveaway sites are all east of the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8, where vaccinations lag behind other parts of the city. According to DC Health, 50.6 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, as of June 21. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, D.C. already surpassed the White House goal of having 70 percent of residents partially vaccinated, even as the country is expected to narrowly miss the goal by July 4. DC Health’s data lags behind the CDC’s, so that number is not reflected on the agency’s website.) Coverage is very uneven, in part due to hesitancy and mistrust that stems from inequity and mistreatment from the health care system. As of June 21, 27 percent of residents in Ward 7 are fully vaccinated while 21 percent of residents in Ward 8 are. In D.C.’s Whiter and wealthier wards, coverage is nearly double. As of June 21, 48 percent of residents in Ward 6 are fully vaccinated, while 46 percent of residents in Ward 3 are. These same disparities are emerging in teen vaccinations.
Government officials are hoping financial incentives will narrow disparities in vaccination. Patrick Ashley, a top official within DC Health, told the Council on Friday that vaccinations nearly doubled at the three sites that had been giving away $51 Visa gift cards since June 19. He could not say for certain if the uptick had to do with the giveaways. When he visited the Anacostia High School site, he said people waiting to get the shot cited the gift card.
Councilmembers encouraged DC Health to consider other incentives like covering college tuition. (Ambrose Lane Jr., co-founder of Black Coalition Against COVID and founder of the Ward 7-based Health Alliance Network, also suggested the government do this.) To encourage more young people to get the shot, councilmembers also offered ideas to make the shot more accessible. Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George suggested setting up sites at summer camps run by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, while At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson suggested offering the COVID-19 vaccine to families while kids are getting immunizations required to attend school. Ashley said DC Health is open to all these ideas.
Financial incentives are just one way the D.C. government has tried to increase vaccination rates. Officials have offered free beer and soccer tickets and have gone door knocking in neighborhoods with low coverage. Dr. Anthony Fauci even knocked on some doors in Ward 8 with Bowser on Juneteenth. It’s unclear how the D.C. government is measuring the success of the various incentive programs. It seems the airline ticket giveaway was not so popular. DC Health is no longer referencing it on its website. (If you are a frequent reader of this newsletter, you’ll remember that Lane Jr. thought the airline ticket giveaway was a bad idea. He laughed when he heard about it.)
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