Some people visiting Butler County health clinics on Wednesday got a surprise: $50 gift cards for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We're willing to do whatever we can that's legal and within reason to get people vaccinated so that this pandemic can be behind us,” said health commissioner Jenny Bailer of the Butler County General Health District.
The incentive is for patients on Medicaid, and it’s part of an effort to get more people vaccinated. According to Ohio’s five managed-care providers, people on Medicaid are vaccinated at lower rates than the rest of the population. Bailer said that this type of benefit isn’t easy to offer, so she was glad that the program was able to get off the ground.
"We've kicked around the incentive program in a lot of different ways," Bailer said “There are a lot of barriers to implementing incentives, so we felt really happy that this one came through for us and we were able to do this with Medicaid."
Another major motivation for getting the gift card reward to vaccine recipients was the slowdown in people showing up at vaccine clinics. Bailer said earlier this year Butler County was up to 33 different drive-through clinics; when they put out a call on Facebook, about 2,000 cars would show up. Things are much different now.
"Most of the people who really wanted to get vaccinated have gotten vaccinated,” Bailer said. "So now we're reaching out to those who are a little bit harder to reach, maybe don't have transportation, maybe they're a little hesitant and they want to do a little education and think about it first."
Emily King, a cashier at Dollar Tree, heard about the payout and was happy to have the convenience of a walk-in clinic Wednesday to get her first dose of the vaccine.
"I've been needing to get it for quite some time,” King said. "I thought, 'Well, this is really close to where I live. I might as well get it done.'"
Fifteen-year-old Morgan Sloan was waiting to get the vaccine until she became eligible. She’s said she’s been living with extra caution and still masking and socially distancing herself from others.
“I kind of woke up and my mom said, 'You're getting your vaccine today,' and I said, 'OK, great, let's go,'” she said. “I just feel safer being out in public, being around people."
Kathy Eatmon of CareSource, one of Ohio’s managed care organizations, said in addition to the $50 gift card incentive, people are being assisted in registering for Ohio’s Vax-a-Million drawing. And for added motivation, the $50 gift card isn’t just for the first dose — it can be given for both doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Eatmon said she hopes that word of mouth will help drive more people to show up for the clinics.
"I always tell them to tell a friend,” she said. “If you know a friend who hasn't received that vaccine, go ahead and tell them to come on out today.”