COMMENTARY: Money for nothing and your shots for free.

by May 5, 2021OPINIONS



One Feather Editor


Across the country and on the Qualla Boundary, we are seeing a slow down in visitors to vaccination clinics. One of the statements that is starting to pop up in governmental media updates is that those who wanted to take the shot have gotten the shot. Now, the task is convincing the fence-sitters and “anti-vaccination” citizens to participate in the vaccine program.

The medical community, particularly on the Boundary has indicated that 75 percent of the population is the goal number of vaccinations to facilitate “herd immunity” and to return to “normalcy”. As of this writing, tribal officials indicate we are at approximately 36 percent.

So, how do you get folks to participate who either don’t want a shot or don’t think they need a shot? Certainly, there are those who are standing on a principle and will not get the shot. Period. So, trying to incentivize those folks is probably a vain and fruitless effort. They are the ones who would literally rather die than get the shot (or admit they are wrong).

But, there is likely a huge segment that is simply not in a rush to get the shot. They may be thinking that their human contact is so limited anyway that they will just continue to use masks, social distancing, etc. until this blows over. Some may be waiting for the rest of us to create that herd immunity for them so that they avoid the shot and COVID-19 altogether. And some of us are simply lazy or, on the other end of the scale, too busy to get the shot and will take it when we get around to it.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) published a recent article by Stacy Weiner titled “Dollars to doughnuts: Will incentives motivate COVID-19 vaccinations?” In it, the writer stated, “Doughnuts. Movie popcorn. Days off work, steak dinners, and cash reward. Businesses have been dishing out-and health experts have been mulling over-ways to entice more people to accept COVID-19 vaccination. For example, Amtrak is offering employees two hours of pay, and the Kroger grocery chain dangled $200 worth of store credit and outright payment. Former Democratic presidential candidates John Delaney and Andrew Yang even backed a proposal to pay everyone who gets vaccinated $1000.”

I think we, as a Tribe, have dipped our toes in the water concerning creating material incentives for getting vaccinated. Concessions for tribal employees like tribal administrative leave are, in reality, a payment in time for getting to a clinic and taking the vaccine.

I had a humorous “bone picking” session with a member of the paper staff when he came back from his trip to the vaccine clinic with stickers and an insulated mug. Those incentive items weren’t available during the early stages of vaccination when I got the shots and I was a little jealous of his COVID mug. Just prior to Easter, one of the tribal vaccine clinics offered an Easter basket to those who would be vaccinated and promoted a “golden egg” contest. To me, all in fun and creative ways to get folks to clinics and a small token of community appreciation for community participation in quickening the coming of herd immunity.

As a long-time marketer, I appreciate the power of material incentive. Without a doubt, it motivates. It is a long-time tool of businesses to entice customers and sell product. There are always ethical considerations when providing this type of an incentive and what impact it will have on certain members of the community, particularly in this case as it involves public health. For example, doing a gun giveaway in an area that has an issue with high incidents of gun crime might not have a positive outcome, even if the guns are of high monetary value. You always must consider the sensibilities of the community when crafting an offer or incentive.

Celebrity endorsements sometimes have some small effect, but the percentage of people who would respond to that is also minimal and would not significantly impact the numbers going to the clinics. I am a big fan of Aerosmith’s music, but it wouldn’t phase me at all if Steven Tyler said he got the vaccine and “You should too” (however, if they said Tyler was at the Tribal Bingo Hall signing autographs for anyone who got the vaccine, I might consider asking for a second round of shots).

According to some surveys, the biggest incentives for vaccine acceptance are the elimination of mask wearing and social distancing. But, repeatedly, the Center for Disease Control and other top medical advisors have rained on any effect of vaccine acceptance to get rid of the mask, for example. The President and other government officials are saying that the vaccines will ultimately lead to normalcy in some form, but not right now.

A good portion of the American public is about instant gratification and entitlement. “If you are going to tell me to get the shot, then I want to know that when I get vaccinated, I can remove my mask and start hanging with people again and right now, not later.” With the possibility of being able to take your mask off and burning it immediately after getting the shot off the table, a good chunk of the public will be a “no” or a “wait and see” on the vaccine. And the waiters will extend the time it takes to get us to the goal of normalcy, modified or otherwise.

So, the next best surveyed incentive is material or monetary. “Give me something and I might take the shot.” As previously mentioned, several municipal leaders and business owners have taken the route of providing material reward for getting the shots.

New York Times reporter Neil Vignor wrote in his May 3 article, “New Jersey is offering a ‘shot and a beer’ for residents who get their first vaccine dose in May and visit participating breweries in the state. Detroit is giving out $50 prepaid cards to anyone who drives a resident to a vaccine site. And, as an enticement for state employees to get the vaccine, Maryland is offering a $100 payment, Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Monday.”

For the foreseeable future, the federal government is picking up the tab for the creation and delivery of the coronavirus vaccine, to the tune of $8.75 billion. At clinics across the nation, regardless of citizenship status, the shots are free to the persons seeking them. Who knows? That also might be a hang up for some folks who might be thinking, if it doesn’t cost anything, is it of good quality or what’s the catch? But it is costing something. If you don’t want to trust me on that, just check your federal tax return when the 2021 bill comes due. But, to the question of direct cost, to those receiving the vaccine, there is none.

Like most pay for ethical action plans, a monetary incentive plan for getting vaccinated seems a little dirty to some of us. Us old timers remember when doing the right thing was its own reward. But we live in a different age and sometimes to get certain positive outcomes, sacrifices will have to be made. And I am talking about America, not just the Boundary. There are people from all walks of life who sometimes need extra motivation to participate. And if it will bring an end to the masks and social distancing, even though I have already taken the shot, I am fine with an incentive program to encourage others to get it. Having others vaccinated is part of the overall fix for the pandemic. Oh, and to the Chiefs and Council members, if you are going to bring Steven Tyler to a vaccine event, please let me know in advance.