Credit: Photo illustration by Julia Terbrock

Last Saturday, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office launched a new vaccine program that incentivizes young D.C. residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine. D.C. is offering a smorgasbord of prizes in an effort to get local 12- to 17-year-olds vaccinated against COVID-19 through Sept. 30. Youth who get their first shot can choose between $51 VISA gift cards or (if they’re one of the first 400 kids at each site) a free pair of AirPods. These AirPods are available at Brookland, Johnson, and Sousa middle schools, and parents who take their kids to these sites will receive one gift card per child. The offerings are also available to students 18 to 21 years old working toward a high school diploma.

The incentives don’t stop there. All kids will be entered into a weekly raffle where they can win an iPad or even one of eight $25,000 college scholarships. Gift cards will also be offered at walk-up sites at Anacostia High School, Ida B. Wells Middle School, and Benning Neighborhood Library.

The neighborhoods where D.C. is offering incentives have much lower youth vaccination rates than other parts of the city, DC Health data shows. Wards 2 and 3 are inching toward nearly 60 percent of 12- 17-year-olds being fully vaccinated. Comparatively, Ward 5 is at about 22 percent, Ward 7 is at 11 percent, and Ward 8 is at 8 percent. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Vaccination coverage in D.C. has been uneven, with Black neighborhoods seeing lower rates than other parts of the city as a result of access issues and systemic mistreatment by the medical system.

Stuart Anderson, who helps manage the Anacostia Coordinating Council and its door-to-door efforts to get residents of Wards 7 and 8 vaccinated, said they have begun including these incentives in their pitches. His team is now getting roughly 30 people a week a shot.

“The incentives are great, I think they are working… any way we can get it done because with these variants” he says. “We’ve got to try to get as many people vaccinated as we can to keep people safe.”

Patrick Ashley, the senior deputy director at DC Health, said the push isn’t only regarding COVID-19. It’s encouraging youth to get all immunizations before D.C. schools resume about a month from now.

“Whether that’s COVID-19 vaccination or their routine pediatric immunization. It’s so important for our children to be protected as they’re coming back to school,” said Ashley, according to WTOP. “We’ve heard from some parents that it’s hard to get appointments with their pediatricians. And so we’ve got community providers here at 34 locations that you can sign up for—we’ve got evening hours, we’ve got weekend hours.”

The delta variant’s rise has left D.C.’s next moves for schooling up in the air. On Monday alone, D.C. reported another 486 new cases of the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The District reported only 21 cases July 9—meaning cases have risen 23 times in one month. The chancellor of DC Public Schools, Dr. Lewis Ferebee, said DCPS will require students and staff to wear masks, but an all-encompassing back to school plan has yet to be finalized.

The D.C. government’s vaccine programs for adults are still going on. People have won cars, a year of Metro rides, and $10,000 worth of groceries.

Ashley called that program a success last month, pointing to vaccination rates leveling out instead of decreasing from late June to early July. But whether the inticements will continue to draw people in is unknown. Discussions have begun regarding other state’s incentives now having spotty success. While Ohio’s $1 million lottery led to a 28% uptick in shots, that success eventually tapered off. Other programs in Arkansas saw little success in pushing people outside of the “moveable middle,” as behavioral economist and University of Pennsylvania professor Katy Milkman puts it, into getting the prick. 

“​​If someone is adamantly opposed to vaccination, they have a strong reason that they would never get a vaccine, paying them $100 is very unlikely to change their minds,” she told NPR.

When asked about how much the incentive programs cost and their success, DC Health directed us to the Mayor’s office, who did not respond. 

All these incentives come as multiple public and private establishments have begun moving from encouraging to penalizing those who haven’t been vaccinated with mandates. Local restaurants, gyms, theaters, and bars have decided to require proof of their customers’ vaccination. City Paper’s Laura Hayes shadowed the staff at one of these bars, Ivy and Coney, and saw the mandate was followed with barely any drama. Public institutions are getting in on it too. The Washington Teachers’ Union says it’s open to a vaccine mandate, and Mayor Bowser announced today vaccines will be required for all D.C. government employees. Former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security Juilette Kayyem says the Biden administration is even considering a vaccine mandate on air travel.

“I think the vaccinated, who are the majority in this country, are saying: ‘You can choose to be unvaccinated, but I’m done carrying the universal burden,’” she told PBS NewsHour.

The District may be providing AirPods for the unvaccinated now, but as new mandates get added every day, the unvaccinated might have to face the music regardless. If you need to schedule your vaccine, check out coronavirus.dc.gov to get your shot

Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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