Gov. Jay Inslee was doing his best barker routine the other day — exhorting, pleading, and ultimately luring with shiny objects, as he tried to get the holdouts and skeptics to step inside the tent.
“Why the heck would you not get this vaccination?” he said. “It could save your life, and it’s free! It has the added benefit of protecting everybody around you that you love!”
“If that’s not enough,” he added later, “you could still win cash or other prizes through Shot of a Lifetime.”
Washington state has done a decent job, overall, at getting vaccinated up. Sixty-eight percent of people 16 and older have had at least one shot, and about 60% are fully vaccinated. But we’re stuck. The number of shots each day is on a steady slide, with the data starting to suggest that about a third of the state’s adults may not get fully vaccinated no matter what.
It’s pretty clear the lottery giveaways — the weekly cash prizes of $250,000 and the Xboxes and sports tickets and so forth — aren’t working. There was a brief blip up in the vaccine daily shots average after the lottery was announced June 3, but that appears to have been mostly a data artifact due to a lull in shots over the Memorial Day holiday.
Bottom line: The number of shots being given today is well below when the lottery started, despite a $1 million jackpot coming up July 13. About 40% of the prizes aren’t being claimed. Last week’s big cash winner, Dillon T. of Yakima, kind of summed it all up when he said in his statement: “I honestly didn’t even know that this COVID lottery was going on here in Washington.”
It’s been the same in other states, too. “Million dollar lotteries fail to cut through vaccine apathy,” headlined a data analysis by Politico in four other states. The best that can be said is that the lotteries may have slowed a decline in shots.
I took a look at some of Washington’s most vaccine resistant counties, and they’ve barely budged since the lottery began. Take Stevens County for instance, north of Spokane. On June 3, when the lottery was introduced, 30% of adults there had at least one shot. Today, it has budged to only 32%, according to the Northeast Tri County Health District.
“It’s just not working,” said Irwin Redlener, of the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative at Columbia University, about the lotteries in general. “People aren’t buying it.”
Reporters this past week pressed Inslee: We’ve got mobile clinics, the lottery, the “joints for jabs.” It’s all a good try but isn’t moving the needle. “What else can the state do to reach the folks who are hesitant to get the shots?” one asked.
I have an idea. Shaming them doesn’t work. I’m not a believer in making the vaccine mandatory (it wouldn’t be worth the political firestorm anyway). So how about just paying them?
The lottery isn’t on the radar screen because it’s too amorphous. As with that one winner in Yakima, most people don’t even know they’re playing. But if the state said they’d give you a hundred bucks or so to get vaccinated, I bet that would motivate the masses.
New Mexico recently did it — they gave $100 per vaccination for a four-day period, and saw a surge in shots. Businesses are trying it too: On Amazon’s job ads, it says “New hires who show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination earn a $100 bonus their first day.”
Americans love money. Green is the one color that always unites us, blue and red counties alike.
Now I realize paying the hesitants, the holdouts and the full-on cranks won’t be popular with the 68% who did the right thing for nothing. I hear from a lot of readers saying: “Forget them — I’m vaccinated, so it’s their problem if they spread a virus among themselves.”
But it doesn’t work quite like that. Look at what happened in Florida. There was an outbreak in the six-worker IT unit of a government office building, with five workers testing positive, four hospitalized and two dying — all of whom were unvaccinated. The one worker of the six who didn’t get sick had gotten the shots. But the entire building, with 700 employees, had to be evacuated and shut down.
Outbreaks like that among the unvaccinated are going to lead to business closures and other societal disruptions for months to come. Plus there’s the ongoing threat to people who for health reasons can’t get vaccinated. Remember that cliché from the beginning of all this — that we’re all in this together? It turns out we really are — and in the worst way.
So pay the holdouts. The state has $134 million left unspent from its federal relief money. At, say, $100 for a two-shot course, that’s enough money to vaccinate up more than a million adults. Which would bring Washington state to 80% — herd immunity.
If that’s not enough, pay ‘em $200. Yes it’s maybe sad, and cynical, that this is what it takes. But millions of Americans still believe the virus is hyped up or a political hoax. The one thing that might pierce that level of mind-meld resistance is the only thing that ever does, money.
Guaranteed the price for not doing so will prove to be considerably higher.