A gift card to Target or a grocery chain. Tickets to the Georgia Aquarium. A Chick-fil-A combo meal (with extra sauce). A Peach Pass for Georgia’s toll lanes. Beer or money.
That’s what it may take to get to herd immunity in Georgia.
As Georgia’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign lags, the eager have mostly been vaccinated. The easy to reach are getting reached. Yet more than half of eligible Georgians still have not been vaccinated.
In the race to get a large majority of residents protected, some other states are offering incentives.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, in April offered a $100 savings bond to residents ages 16 to 35 and made the offer retroactive to those who got their shots before the announcement.
New York City on Monday offered free tickets to popular attractions, and the state chipped in free subway rides to those who get shots at a designated station.
Maine’s governor, Janet Mills, a Democrat, announced her state’s offer of vaccination incentives at a virtual press conference Tuesday with President Joe Biden. Maine is offering new vaccinees a pick of recreational prizes including a free fishing license, a state parks day pass or a $20 gift card to L.L. Bean.
Undoubtedly the biggest incentive news, however, came out of Ohio Wednesday. Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, announced that once a week, the state will hold a drawing for two big prizes: for those under age 18, a full-ride scholarship to state colleges and universities; for those over 18, a lottery drawing for $1 million.
Will Georgia ante up? A spokeswoman for Gov. Brian Kemp, Mallory Blount, said his administration is “considering a variety of options.”
The idea is attractive to some Georgians, off-putting to others. Some called it a “bribe” and unethical. Professional ethicists disputed that.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Georgians on social media for their suggestions for what the state could offer to lure holdouts. The ideas came rolling in.
The Ohio jackpot struck a chord with many.
In FaceBook and Twitter comments, they hailed the big money. Or even a mere $10,000.
Others got down to business. Suggestions included sports tickets, to Falcons games or UGA football. Or gift cards: Gas cards; Amazon gift cards; Chick-fil-A gift cards; free Coke products. Or free admission to museums or the zoo — or tickets to Six Flags.
“A free beer at a local brewery, a Peach Pass gift card, a ticket to either Atlanta Braves or Gwinnett Stripers, gas gift card. Georgia’s numbers are so low that I’m all for using incentives,” said a social media poster named Shelley, on the AJC page for Gwinnett County. “Normally it’s not what I go for but this is important and I think it will work.”
What really matters to some, though, is just getting back to normal. Wes Heiser of Dallas told the AJC that he already recovered from COVID-19, so getting vaccinated just wasn’t a priority.
“If I could take off the mask at work I would totally get the vaccine as soon as I can,” Heiser said.
He works in a liquor distributor’s warehouse, and combined with the Georgia weather in there, the mask can be unbearable.
Then he heard the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement Thursday that most Americans who’ve already been fully vaccinated can dispense with masks indoors or outdoors. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the CDC was reacting to new scientific findings and didn’t intend it as an incentive.
But Heiser is responding. He said he expects new policy from his employer soon. He plans on getting vaccinated “probably tomorrow.”
There are already some incentives offered broadly by private enterprises in Georgia.
Krispy Kreme is offering a free glazed doughnut to anyone who shows their vaccine card completed with at least one vaccine dose. And the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta United have offered free team tickets to some who got vaccinated at those locations. Atlanta Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall said the team expects to do more.
The state Department of Public Health on Thursday published a Tweet suggesting private employers could help by offering paid time off.
Some incentives would simply clear barriers that keep people from being able to take time off work to get the vaccine. Getting the Moderna or Pfizer two-shot regimen can be difficult for employees with unpredictable work schedules, because the second shot should be taken a particular number of days after the first. And some vaccinees have side effects the day after that make it difficult to work.
An examination by the AJC earlier this year found many Georgia employers were encouraging their workers to get the shots, but few were giving them paid time off to do it.
Exceptions included Delta Air Lines, with an offer of extra paid time off equivalent to one work day plus a $50 incentive through health benefits. Fleetcor, a business payments company, offers a paid day off for each dose received. The City of Acworth offered $200 Walmart gift certificates to vaccinated employees.
Some Georgians are offended by the offers. A poster named Will called incentives “an insult to humanity.”
But they are not unethical, said Art Caplan, an ethicist at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine.
“You don’t have to do anything,” he said. “If you don’t want to do these things, respond to them, no one’s pressuring you or forcing you to do anything. But putting state resources behind a vaccination campaign that’s crucial to public health makes good ethical sense.”
Caplan notes the separate importance of making sure it’s legal. For instance, the Georgia lottery was established by the state Legislature with legal requirements on where money could and couldn’t go.
“And I like it when private enterprise tries to do it,” he added. “I’m all for the Krispy Kreme doughnut strategy. I like it when the Braves do it and try to give you a free ticket if you vaccinate.”
There might be a problem perceived by some people who already got vaccinated, though, and missed out by doing the right thing fast.
“It’s not really fair,” Karen Peterson, a Buford woman who’s already vaccinated, told the AJC. And though she could still get the Krispy Kreme doughnut, it won’t help: “I’m gluten intolerant,” she said.
Others kept it simple, like a FaceBook poster named Amanda.
The incentive she wants:
“How about herd immunity and some semblance of normalcy again?”
AJC reporter Matt Kempner contributed to this article