By MARSHA MERCER
Free donuts! Free beer! Free groceries! Free rides! Free childcare! Free college! Free cash!
Free guns! Wait. What?
The escalation of incentives to lure Americans to do something they should do willingly and gratefully rang the absurdity gong in West Virginia.
Gov. Jim Justice Tuesday announced his state would give away to lucky West Virginians who get vaccinated against COVID-19: two full, four-year scholarships to any state university, two new custom-outfitted pickup trucks, 25 weekend getaways to state parks, five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, a million dollars – and, yes, five customized rifles and five customized shotguns.
Shaking my head.
Justice, a Republican who used to be a Democrat, acknowledged his state shouldn’t have to resort to such giveaways, but he said, “Unfortunately, it’s the way of the world today.”
And there’s a practical side to the vaccination nudge -- or bribe, depending on your point of view.
“The faster we get ‘em across the finish line, the more lives we save” and the more money the state will save on COVID-19 testing and hospital care for COVID patients, he said.
It’s sad the demand for vaccinations nationwide has plummeted so fast. Fewer than 555,000 people a day are getting new vaccinations now, compared with nearly 2 million a day in early April, the Associated Press reported.
In one sense, vaccinations may be the victim of their own success. COVID-19 cases are down more than 90% and deaths down more than 85% since January. Some people may feel they don’t need to get jabbed.
“The fact remains: If you are not vaccinated, you are at risk of getting the virus or spreading it to someone else,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
About 63% of adults have received at least one shot, but President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults fully vaccinated by July 4 appears in doubt. On Wednesday, he launched a “month of action.”
The campaign will include door-to-door canvassing, texts, media ads featuring celebrities, free rides to vaccination sites by Uber and Lyft, and free childcare for parents while they’re getting shots.
Black barbershops and beauty salons will help clients find vaccinations, which are readily available. Some pharmacies will stay open 24 hours on Fridays in June to give shots.
Krispy Kreme is giving away free donuts to the vaccinated. Some supermarkets are offering free groceries to customers who get vaccinated in their stores.
When the 70% goal is achieved, Anheuser-Busch promises a free round of beer to those 21 and older who are vaccinated and sign up on their website.
The multi-carrot approach is needed because nothing turns Americans off faster than sticks – such as mandates. And it’s hard to counter the rampant misinformation on social media.
Some people fear side effects, but they typically are mild and far less scary than the unpredictable effects of COVID. For others, not getting vaccinated is a misguided political statement, although the former Republican president and his wife got vaccinated quietly at the White House.
“Getting the vaccine is not a partisan act,” Biden emphasized. The science was done during Democratic and Republican administrations, and the first vaccines were authorized under a Republican president and developed and deployed by a Democratic one.
“I don’t want to see the country that is already too divided become divided in a new way – between places where people live free from fear of COVID and places where, when the fall arrives, death and severe illnesses return. The vaccine is free, it’s safe, and it’s effective,” Biden said.
Reason and patriotism have gotten us only so far; now it’s time for blatant self-interest, largely paid for with federal funds.
Several states, including Ohio, New Mexico and West Virginia, have launched lotteries open only to residents who have gotten vaccinated.
Ten lucky vaccinated New York students Wednesday won full tuition, room and board scholarships to any State or City University of New York campus. The state will raffle a total of 50 free rides, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, adding each scholarship is about a $100,000 value.
Justice is right that incentives shouldn’t be necessary. But if they get us across the finish line to near normalcy, they’re a price worth paying.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.