Are Incentives to Vaccinate America Working?

In May, AM TRACE reported on the surge of cash rewards, promotions, and prizes states and counties are offering Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. While the United States struggles to reach herd immunity, the flurry of incentives keeps rolling out nationwide as vaccination rates slow down. Some states are even offering those who are willing to roll up their sleeves a chance at millions. AM analysts are now taking a broader look to find out if these “dangling carrots” are increasing vaccine uptake or are just a frivolous use of taxpayers’ dollars. 

In our article,Cash for Vax: What Incentives Are Being Offered to Increase Vaccine Uptake,” we highlighted the ambitious methods states and local authorities were using to persuade people to get the COVID-19 vaccines. Buffalo New York’s successful “shot and chaser” initiative resulted in a significant increase in vaccine uptake. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and West Virginia offered cash incentive programs to encourage people to get vaccinated. Since then, even more states have jumped on board and are offering cash-based or gift card incentives. For example, Governor Baker of Massachusetts started the VaxMillions lottery, offering several $1 million dollar cash prizes, as well as $300,000 scholarships to students. The lottery is heavily modeled after Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio’s lottery, which garnered the support of 2.7 million adults who registered for the chance to win $1 million dollars in one of five weekly drawings. While no data have been provided, Governor Baker stated that there has been an uptick in vaccinations. 

Other states, like West Virginia, are offering a wider array of prizes. In addition to the $100 bonds or gift cards the state is offering to anyone 16- to 35-years old who receives or has already received a COVID-19 vaccine, West Virginians who are fully vaccinated are now eligible to enter a raffle for one of the following prizes: a full four-year scholarship to any West Virginia institution (age-restricted), a brand new, custom-outfitted truck, a weekend getaway to a West Virginia State Park, hunting, fishing, and gun incentives, or $1 million dollars. California’s lottery is offering a number of cash prizes and rewards; including an expenses-paid all-inclusive set of trips for those who are vaccinated. The state is also reaching out to teens now that the Pfizer vaccine is available to children 12 years of age and older. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that 30 Californians 12 years and older have a chance to win $50,000 if they complete their vaccinations. If a minor wins, the cash will be put in a savings account until they turn 18 years old. The state is also offering a chance at winning one of 10 $1.5 million cash prizes. The current list of states and cities offering these lotteries for cash and prizes is substantial. 

In addition to states, corporations are fighting to sway those who are on the fence to get vaccinated. Both Amazon and AT&T have set up numerous on-site vaccination clinics for their employees, with Amazon going a step further by offering $80 to get the jab. Walmart, Kroger, Raytheon, and Albertsons are also among the group of employers offering cash rewards to employees who get vaccinated. Other programs have been more product-focused, such as Krispy Kreme’s offer of a free donut and Anheuser-Busch’s promotions for free beer when providing proof of vaccination.

Although some may consider these incentives a bit “overboard,” they appear to be working. ABC 11 Eyewitness News reported that Ohio’s vaccination-incentive program led to a 53% hike in vaccination rates shortly after the initiative was announced. Last week Newsom reported that his state saw an increase in vaccinations following the first vaccine lottery drawing. Speaking at an event in Valencia, California, he highlighted a week-over-week increase in overall doses administered, which includes second shots for people who received the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. “Turns out, these incentives have worked,” he said of the state’s $116 million programs of lottery prizes and gift cards. In North Carolina, the $25 Summer Cash Cards pilot that the state launched in May paid off. The card was provided to offset the time and transportation costs of getting vaccinated. In addition, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported that more than 40% of people surveyed at pilot locations said having someone to drive them was a very important reason they got vaccinated at the event, and 25% said the Summer Cash Card was a very important motivation for getting vaccinated.

As the pandemic continues into the summer and fall months, it is unclear if these incentives are sustainable. Are state and local leaders setting a costly and undesirable precedent? With the cost of the pandemic in the United States alone estimated at $16 trillion, can America continue to pay people to get vaccinated? Given the likelihood that booster shots will be necessary for the near future, these incentive programs may backfire, causing people to expect and wait for an incentive the next time around. There are still so many unanswered questions, but one thing is clear, AM analysts will continue to track and analyze the effectiveness of these programs. While costly incentives may not get us to President Joseph Biden’s 70% vaccination goal by July 4th, they may certainly get us closer. 


AM TRACE is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM TRACE for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at

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