CONCORD — As other states compete in a game-show frenzy to increase COVID-19 vaccinations, Gov. Chris Sununu remains dead set against offering cash and fabulous prizes to lure hesitant New Hampshire residents.
New Hampshire is making it as easy as any state to get a vaccine, Sununu said, but “what your health is, how you protect those you covet the most, I don’t feel comfortable attaching a financial incentive to it.”
“Getting a shot is a health care decision,” he said. “It is very personal, and there are different ramifications.”
Last week, the Granite State became one of the first in the nation to introduce walk-in vaccinations without an appointment.
The state also has opened vaccinations to any U.S. citizen, after Sununu initially resisted the idea of letting non-resident college students sign up.
Meanwhile, many of Sununu’s fellow governors are moving aggressively to offer incentives for vaccinations in what is starting to resemble a bidding war.
Two weeks ago, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine turned heads by offering newly vaccinated residents a chance to win $1 million in one of five weekly “Vax-a-Million” lottery jackpots in May and June.
To get younger residents to sign up, DeWine is also offering five full scholarships to any state-run college.
Not to be outdone, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo upped the ante last week with the “Vax-N-Scratch” program, which offers 13 different prizes ranging from $20 to $5 million.
On Friday, Oregon became the latest state to join the sweepstakes, with a lottery open to any resident who has at least one shot by June 27.
On June 28, one winner will get $1 million, five students will win college scholarships and one resident from each of the state’s 36 counties will get $10,000.
Local governments are following this lead.
New York City is giving away items ranging from Lincoln Center tickets to Shake Shack French fries, while the Los Angeles Unified School District is giving cash grants to schools who reach vaccination targets.
To date, the biggest prize in New Hampshire has been a free ticket to the Lancaster Fair in September, offered to those who showed up at a vaccine clinic at the fairgrounds Friday.
Vaccine numbers declining
These big-money incentives are being driven by a continuing decline in vaccinations nationwide.
The Centers for Disease Control reported that a record 4.3 million doses were administered on April 1, but it’s been downhill ever since.
From April 11 to May 11, the weekly national average of doses dropped from 3.3 million to 1.7 million.
Dr. Beth Daly, director of New Hampshire’s infectious disease control bureau, said the state continues to accept and dispense the 50,000 weekly doses of COVID-19 vaccine it receives from the federal government.
But the state will turn down some offered doses if interest continues to wane, she said.
New Hampshire still has 17,000 unfilled vaccination appointments between now and the end of Memorial Day weekend, Sununu said.
Prize value questioned
Consensus is lacking on the efficacy and ethics of introducing cash lotteries into public health policy.
In a 2006 paper on behavioral economics, authors reported that offering compensation in situations like this can cause some to see a desired action — in this case, getting vaccinated — in a negative light.
“If they have to bribe people to get vaccinated, what is wrong with it?” Oregon resident Barbara Goheen asked Friday on Facebook.
Last January, Dr. Emily Largent, assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that incentives should be offered only as a “last resort,” but she concluded a modest sum could make a difference.
John Delaney, a former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Maryland congressman, suggested paying every person who provides proof of vaccination a $1,500 check, a giveaway that could cost up to $383 billion.
In a UCLA’s COVID-19 Health and Politics Project survey of 75,000 people, a third of those who have not been vaccinated said they would get a shot for a cash payment of $25 to $100.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last month that 13% of all U.S. adults said they will not get the vaccine, regardless of any incentive.
At least in the early days, it appears Ohio’s stunt has had a positive impact.
Two days after the lottery was announced, Ohio administered 25,400 shots in a single day, its highest number in three weeks.
DeWine noted that in the key demographic of 30- to 74-year-olds, vaccinations were up 6% after weeks of a steady decline.
Jobs, but not shots
Meanwhile, New Hampshire is offering $1,000 to anyone who gets off the unemployment rolls and takes a full-time job. So, Sununu was asked, why not pay someone to get vaccinated?
“Those are two different things, offering an incentive for someone to make a health-care decision and for someone to take a job,” Sununu said.
“I want everybody to get the vaccine, but there are a lot of folks that are very reluctant to get this done and I have to respect that,” he said.
“That whole $1 million thing, I am very hesitant about that.”
Andy Slavitt, President Joe Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, noted last Friday that one the most popular dating apps, dating.com, revealed 86% of its customers said they were looking for a partner who was fully vaccinated.
“We have finally found the one thing that makes us all attractive — getting vaccinated,” Slavitt said.