CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Starting Wednesday, June 2 the Mecklenburg County Health Department offered an incentive to people who get the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or drop a friend or family member off at a vaccination site. The $25 gift cards are only available at a select few locations in the county through June 8 and health leaders are hoping it will help motivate people who have been putting it off.
It’s a statewide pilot program that started in some places last week and they gave out about 1,000 cash cards to people who got the shots and 375 to drivers. Gov. Roy Cooper said on Wednesday after the first week, there are signs the financial support is making a difference in getting more people vaccinated.
In Mecklenburg County, the Medical Director Dr. Meg Sullivan said on the first day, they definitely saw a lot of people excited about the $25. They were giving them out at MEDIC Headquarters in West Charlotte and the Beatties Ford Road Health Department location.
A recent graduate of North Mecklenburg High School even showed up in his cap and gown shortly after graduating Wednesday afternoon to get his vaccine shot and his money.
“I just wanted to keep myself protected for me, my family and when I go to college," Jordan Walker said.
The $25 gift card giveaway in North Carolina is less than other states are offering but for many, it sweetens the deal.
“It was a good deal! I mean getting rid of getting the shot and getting some free money, so I’m having a good day,” Jason Tribue said.
Anyone who drives a friend or family member to a clinic gets a gift card too.
“They’re my friends and I don't want them to have COVID,” said a driver.
As the weeks and months pass, fewer people want the shots.
In the Charlotte area during the week of April 9, the 7-day rolling average number of shots Novant Health gave was 1,449. That’s the same week everyone 16 and older became eligible to get vaccinated. Last week, the rolling average was 526 shots.
It’s a county-wide trend.
“In an ideal world, everyone would already be vaccinated because we now have the supply and capacity to do so but at this point, it’s just so important for us to get higher numbers of people vaccinated that we're excited to be participating in this pilot,” Dr. Sullivan said.
Several major businesses and other states are offering incentives too, many much larger than $25. Ohio saw a bump in vaccination rates after entering people who rolled up their sleeves into a lottery for $1 million.
"That would be nice but $25 will work for today though,” Tribue said.
Regardless of how the payout stacks up against other states, Mecklenburg County Health officials just want more people to get vaccinated and hope this will help.
“Challenges with transportation can be barriers for individuals. Especially those that don't have as much flexibility with taking time off of work or having paid time off,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s what this pilot is intended to address.”
The governor said they're encouraging private businesses to offer incentives too and teased possibly following the lead of some other states when it comes to larger prizes.
“We’ve looked very closely at the drawings and promotions that other states have done and have looked at their results and hopefully we will be following some of their lead soon,” Gov. Cooper said.
The Mecklenburg County Health Department will give the $25 gift cards at the Billingsley Road Health Department on Thursday and at Medic, Catawba Brewing and Food Truck Friday on Westpark Drive on Friday.