As health officials in West Virginia scramble to find willing arms for the state's supply ofvaccines, the state's governor is hoping a financial incentive will convince younger residents to roll up their sleeves.
West Virginians ages 16 to 35 who get vaccinated will also get a $100 savings bond, Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, said in a Monday briefing. "Our kids today probably don't really realize just how important they are in shutting this thing down," he said. "I'm trying to come up with a way that's truly going to motivate them — and us — get over the hump."
West Virginia has roughly 380,000 people between the ages of 16 and 35, and the offer will apply retroactively to those who have already been inoculated.
The state will use federal funds allocated under the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to cover the cost of the bonds, said Justice, who added that the idea had been vetted "every way that we possibly can" to make sure the plan is feasible.
The potential cost of offering the incentive to a demographic proving to be more resistant to vaccination is significantly lower than the $75 million spent by the state on testing people for the coronavirus over the past year, Justice told the Washington Post.
Justice said he understood not all would agree with his approach. "But if I'm able to pull this off and we are able to shut this down for the small price of $27.5 million ... I would tell those critics to kiss my butt," he told the newspaper.
Of the nearly 1.5 million West Virginians eligible for the shots, 52% have received at least one dose. But vaccinations in the state have waned in recent weeks, leaving the state short of its goal of immunizing more than 70% of residents.
"If we really want to move the needle, we've got to get our younger people vaccinated," Justice said.
"If we can get to 70%, we'll shut this virus down," he added. "If we do that, the masks go away, the hospitalizations go away and the deaths become minimal."
Public health experts disagree on precisely how much of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated in order to halt the spread of COVID-19 and reach so-called herd immunity. Most estimates range from 70% to 85%. Yet with a significant share of Americans to get the vaccine, scientists worry that herd immunity could be delayed.
West Virginia oversaw ain its vaccine rollout in January, but uptake of the vaccine has since slowed. As of Tuesday, state health officials reported nearly 152,000 coronavirus cases and 2,662 deaths from COVID-19.
The lure on offer in West Virginia is among a multitude of incentives being dangled by states, schools, hospitals and employers.
Connecticut's governor, Ned Lamont, on Monday touted a two-week program where adults can get a free drink at specific restaurants if they show their vaccination card. The partnership with the Connecticut Restaurant Association is slated to start May 19 to coincide with the lifting of restrictions on businesses across the state.
Detroit's Wayne State University is adding $10 to the student accounts of those vaccinated and the University of Iowa is offering its inoculated students $10 gift cards good for use in downtown Iowa City.
After offering cash incentives earlier in the year, Texas hospital system Houston Methodist is now telling its 26,000 employeesby June 7 to keep their jobs.