WASHINGTON — Dangling everything from sports tickets to a free beer, President Joe Biden is looking for that extra something — anything — that will get people to roll up their sleeves for COVID-19 shots when the promise of a lifesaving vaccine by itself hasn’t been enough.
Biden on Wednesday announced a “month of action” to urge more Americans to get vaccinated before the July 4 holiday, including an early summer sprint of incentives and a slew of new steps to ease barriers and make getting shots more appealing to those who haven’t received them. He is closing in on his goal of getting 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by Independence Day — essential to his aim of returning the nation to something approaching a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy this summer.
To date, 62.9 percent of the adult U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 133.9 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed to an average below 555,000 per day, down from more than 800,000 when incentives like the first lotteries were announced, and down from a peak of nearly 2 million per day in early April when demand for shots was much higher.
The lengths to which the U.S. is resorting to convince Americans to take a shot stands in contrast to much of the world, where vaccines are far less plentiful. Facing a mounting U.S. surplus, the Biden administration is planning to begin sharing 80 million doses with the world this month.
“All over the world people are desperate to get a shot that every American can get at their neighborhood drugstore,” Biden said.
“Incentives can work, and I think the White House’s focus on making vaccination the easy and convenient choice is important,” said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, public health professor at George Washington University and former Baltimore health commissioner.
“It’s the height of American exceptionalism that we are having to beg people to get a life-saving vaccine, when healthcare workers and vulnerable people around the world are dying because they can’t get access to it,” she added.
Thanks to the vaccinations, the rates of cases and deaths in the U.S. are at their lowest since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, averaging under 16,000 new cases and under 400 deaths per day.
As part of the effort to drive Americans to get shots, the White House is borrowing some tools from political campaigns, including phone banks, door-knocking and texting. The administration says more than 1,000 such events will be held this weekend alone. Additionally, it is organizing competitions between cities and colleges to drive up vaccination rates.
Other new incentives include a $2 million commitment from DoorDash to provide gift cards to community health centers to be used to drive people to get vaccinated. CVS launched a sweepstakes with prizes including free cruises and Super Bowl tickets. Major League Baseball will host on-site vaccine clinics and ticket giveaways at games. And Kroger will give $1 million to a vaccinated person each week this month and dozens of people free groceries for the year.