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North Carolina’s $100 Reward Offer Ignites COVID-19 Vaccine Interest

NC Department Of Public Safety
Gov. Roy Cooper, shown here in a Jan. 12 news conference, extended North Carolina's modified stay-at-home order until the end of February.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Interest in COVID-19 vaccines has surged in the week since North Carolina’s governor announced that his administration would boost the financial incentive from $25 to $100 for unvaccinated residents who come in for their first shot this month.

While a number of factors are contributing to people’s decision to get vaccinated, including the rising spread of the more contagious delta variant, state health officials are hopeful even more people will choose to get vaccinated now that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has decided to follow President Joe Biden’s advice to give out $100 rewards.

“Many of our providers distributed all of their cards in a single day after we announced the shift to $100 last week,” said Catie Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services. “One of our providers went from distributing 1,000 cards per week to 3,000 in two days.”

Drivers who take people in for their first shot remain eligible for one $25 prepaid credit card, while those who get the shot can now receive four cards in $25 denominations.

Armstrong said the department has worked to remove from its website the vaccination sites where providers have run out of cash cards, though she said supplies should soon be replenished.

About 38,000 $25 cards have been issued since the state launched its pilot program in May. Armstrong said the cards are shipped to vaccine providers on a weekly basis based on anticipated demand. The department has ordered roughly $1.8 million worth of cards for delivery this week, she said.

Data collected by the state health department and shared with The Associated Press shows nearly 18,000 page loads on the incentives section of the website during the entire month of July, when the cash reward being offered was $25. But since Cooper’s announcement last week, the section has seen more than 66,000 page loads — a 269% increase.

North Carolina last week held its fourth and final lottery for two separate prizes of $1 million and a $125,000 college scholarship. Its effectiveness has been less clear, given the state had continued to see waning interest in COVID-19 vaccines after the lottery was first announced in June.

“It’s hard to know exactly what combination of factors draws people in to get vaccinated, and I think one thing builds upon the other,” Cooper said in a news conference last week. “As much information as we can get out there (and) as much incentive as we can get out there, the better off that we are.”

Republican State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in March 2020, said in an interview Tuesday that the cash cards wouldn’t have been needed if the state had done a better job promoting the shots this past winter by recognizing geographic differences in how people view vaccines. Folwell, who has been vaccinated, opposed the lottery.

“We were totally flat-footed on the rollout of this vaccine, which has put us in a position now where we had to give $1 million to a person who has already been vaccinated, have a vaccine lottery and now these cash cards,” Folwell said. “It’s an attempt to steer the focus away from how botched the rollout was.”

Regardless of the motivating forces, the pace of vaccinations has climbed in recent weeks, with nearly 80,000 people coming in for an initial dose in each of the past two weeks. More North Carolinians got their first COVID-19 shot last week than on any given week since the week of May 24, according to state health department data.

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