Local health officials are hopeful that the state’s massive vaccine incentive package will lead locals who are hesitant about the vaccine the boost needed to get their shot in the arm.
State officials announced the rollout of an estimated $116.5 million vaccine incentive package on Thursday, making it the largest incentives package in the nation thus far. The program offers 10 vaccinated California residents the chance to win $1.5 million and another 30 the chance to win $50,000. In addition, the state is offering $50 prepaid gift cards to the next two million residents who finish their vaccine series.
The incentives come as the pace of the state’s massive vaccine rollout has slowed in recent weeks, going from about 400,000 shots per day down to approximately 200,000 per day, according to The Los Angeles Times.
That slowdown even had implications in Santa Barbara County, where health officials say most of the people who wanted their vaccine already received. The county saw a slow rise in the vaccination rate after eligibility expanded for kids ages 12 and up a little over two weeks ago, and officials are hopeful the new state incentives will help to inch the county closer to herd immunity.
“What we have seen is that the number of people showing up to get their first dose of the vaccine has really dropped very quickly since the middle of April, and there are a lot of reasons that people are not yet vaccinated, and no one solution is going to work for everybody,” Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease specialist at Cottage Health, told the News-Press Friday. “But I do think there are a lot of young and middle aged otherwise healthy adults who perhaps simply haven’t had the time or an easy way to get vaccinated, and incentives like this, the $50 gift card and the dream of winning $1.5 million or $50,000 could maybe make a big difference for them.”
In recent weeks, Cottage Health has offered multiple walk-up vaccination clinics with no appointment needed. This has prompted a shift from mostly serving patients with appointments to primarily serving walk-ups. Dr. Fitzgibbons said the vaccine clinics have served hundreds of same day walk-up appointments.
“We definitely felt a bump after the Emergency Use Authorization expanded to 12 and above,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “We had a lot of very excited teens and their parents showing up in those first couple weeks.”
As of Friday, 63% of Santa Barbara County’s eligible 12 and older population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 51.5% of that population is fully vaccinated. While encouraged by these statistics going into the summer months, Dr. Fitzgibbons said she remains concerned that the region could still see a surge of COVID-19 before more people receive their shot.
“I do remain worried that until our community is better protected, we’re vulnerable to future surges of COVID-19,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “ In part, I’m worried about this fall and this winter and variants that may spread through our community that you know may affect people who are unvaccinated. I think right now I’m thrilled that we have 63% of eligible people in Santa Barbara County vaccinated with at least a single dose, and I think 51.5% fully vaccinated is such a good position to enter the summer and hopefully spend more time outdoors together with masks off. I do remin worried that 50% fully vaccinated still leaves us quite vulnerable.”