Metro Atlanta schools offer vacations, raffles to boost staff vaccines

Atlanta and Fulton County school districts are dangling a host of incentives — from tropical vacations to relaxed dress codes — to entice employees to get vaccinated at special events this week.

Fulton County Schools started mass vaccinations Monday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta Public Schools will begin Wednesday.

Several thousand fewer employees signed up for the COVID-19 vaccine events than the school systems planned for. Both districts are trying to boost participation and create an air of celebration by offering freebies from sponsors.

ExploreCOVID-19 cases reported at metro Atlanta public schools

APS will raffle off a host of prizes provided by businesses. There’s a chance to win resort stays in Antigua, the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Barbados and Panama. There’s also gift cards to Amazon, Jiffy Lube and Delta Airlines.

Fulton calls its big push “Project Vaccinate 2021.”

On Monday, teachers rolled-up their sleeves at tables set up alongside the stadium’s darkened barbecue and burger concession stands. After their shots, employees picked up commemorative T-shirts and matching bags.

Kristin Abercrombie, an Alpharetta Elementary School teacher who always planned to get vaccinated, said she’s thankful the district arranged the event. She’s also happy for an extra bonus: Anytime she dons the green vaccine shirt, she can wear jeans to work.

“I’m so happy to have my first shot and to have some sort of protection,” Abercrombie said. “I am so excited because I love to wear jeans, I will do anything for a jeans pass. A relaxed dress code was definitely an incentive.”

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Some of Fulton’s “swag bags” contained gift cards. The district also will do a drawing for a big screen TV.

“A total of $1,000 a day give-away,” the district’s website promises. “We will be asking all lucky winners to tweet their win!”

In a survey a few weeks ago, about 8,000 of Fulton’s 14,000 employees expressed interest in the mass vaccination event. Only about 3,600 are registered so far.

Because of lower numbers, Fulton won’t need as much time to administer second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. To help with scheduling, the district initially planned to move all classes online from April 12-16. Officials now expect to finish in three days, so schools will open for in-person learning on April 15 and 16.

Chief Talent Officer Ron Wade said some employees made their own appointments as soon as the state expanded eligibility criteria to include educators a few weeks ago. Additionally, some older employees, nurses and school police officers were able to get vaccinated even earlier.

But, he added, “we are still dealing with some hesitancy.” To combat that, the district’s vaccine plan focused on access, information and incentives to build excitement.

ExploreMore stories about Atlanta Public Schools

“Whatever would motivate them to take the shot,” Wade said. “We wanted to do everything we could as an employer to make that available to employees.”

In the Atlanta district, more than 40% of employees who responded to a January survey said they were unsure about the vaccine or would not take it. APS secured enough doses to vaccinate about 8,000 staffers, and 1,658 signed up by late last week.

Spokesman Ian Smith said shots are “much more readily available” than they once were. He said even employees who previously indicated they would get vaccinated through the district’s event found other opportunities.

“Our main goal has always been to encourage all of our employees to get vaccinated. Participating in our APS mass vaccination events is just one option, and it is voluntary,” Smith said in an email.

Officials from both districts said vaccines reserved for educators will not go to waste and will be reallocated through the Fulton County Board of Health.