A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Darrow Montgomery

About one month ago, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration started doling out $51 VISA gift cards at select COVID-19 vaccine sites, and entered individuals into various raffles for a chance to win more than just a shot back to “normal.”

What has happened since? Sites that offer giveaways have seen an uptick of D.C. residents getting vaccinated. According to DC Health’s Patrick Ashley, the site at Anacostia High School saw a 100 percent increase, from an average of 25 people per day to 50, and the site at Ron Brown High School saw a 17 percent increase, jumping from 30 to 35 people per day on average. 

The three sites that pass out gift cards to those that get vaccinated (as well as people who encouraged them to go) and that enter individuals into a raffle for a free car, one year of free groceries, or free Metro rides are located in communities that have lower rates of vaccine coverage. Residents of those communities seem to be getting inoculated at those sites in recent weeks. Residents from other parts of the city aren’t flocking in droves to Wards 7 and 8, as was the case early in the pandemic when the vaccine was scarce. Of the 1,200 people who got a $51 gift card at the Wards 7 and 8 sites, 70 percent live in those wards, Ashley told councilmembers during a conference call on Friday. About 50 percent of the gift card holders are from Ward 8, while 20 percent are from Ward 7. 

The mayor’s team already announced the first round of giveaway winners. The Post profiled one of those winners, Sung-ha Jou of Ward 8, and it is worth a read. For Jou, winning a year of free rides on Metro was the boon he desperately needed. The pandemic took nearly everything from him. Now, he feels more optimistic about his future. The Bowser administration will announce three more rounds of winners, and Saturday, July 17 is expected to be the last day DC Health hands out gift cards. 

One more person that’s vaccinated is good for local herd immunity, or when most of the community is immune from a disease and provides protection to those who are not. But what have the incentives meant for overall vaccination rates? 

Ashley told councilmembers that vaccinations citywide have finally become stagnant, meaning D.C. is no longer seeing a decrease. “It is good news,” he assured. DC Health data shows vaccinations started to stagnate late June into early July. Ashley does not just attribute this to financial incentives but other efforts, namely community members who’ve gone door-knocking to try and persuade their neighbors to get vaccinated. He also cited the rise of the delta variant as a motivating factor. (Public health officials and experts say the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have so far demonstrated to be effective against preventing serious illness or disease from the coronavirus and variants.) 

The flat line is something to celebrate. When the mayor’s team started its “Take the Shot, DC Giveaway” program—at the encouragement of councilmembers and local advocates—vaccinations were steadily decreasing. According to DC Health data, 1,057 shots were administered on Saturday, June 19, the first day DC Health handed out gift cards. The day before, 1,172 shots were administered. Meaning the day the government started financial incentives, the city saw a 10 percent drop in vaccinations. The most shots administered last month was on June 4, at 2,142. Nowadays, D.C. averages 887 per week, according to the most recent DC Health data. 

Ashley says the District government is interested in creating more financial incentives—and the executive has a lot of money for this as allocated by the Council. The next one is likely tailored for young people, who have lower vaccination rates. D.C. is interested in following the lead of other cities and states that cover college tuition for young people that get the shot. 

D.C.’s vaccination rates are better than in most parts of the country. The city is one of the few jurisdictions across the country where at least 70 percent of the local population over 12 years old is at least partially vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The adult population reached that milestone in early June. As of July 12, the CDC says 62.3 percent of the total population is at least partially vaccinated, and 54 percent is fully vaccinated. 

Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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