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Cows, cash and ‘pot for shots’: global vaccine swag

Governments and businesses around the world are giving away all manner of rewards to persuade people to get immunized

Million-dollar lottery prizes, french fries, paid vacation days, ammunition and even cattle — as countries around the world seek to turn an important corner in the Covid-19 pandemic, governments and corporations are encouraging people to get vaccinated with an array of giveaways.

Vaccine hesitancy in individuals takes many forms, including a fear of side effects, skepticism about their efficacy and the misguided belief that the coronavirus does not pose a significant danger to health. Initiatives to increase vaccine uptake are not surprising, even in countries where denialism is relatively low. In the UK, where acceptance rates remain high, one recent study published in The Lancet found that around 10% of British adults have said that they will never take a Covid-19 vaccine, or will avoid doing so for as long as possible.

Many of the announced schemes aim to reboot ailing economic sectors, such as tourism, hospitality and retail, and to boost worker morale. Earlier this month, the Russian airline Aeroflot launched a dedicated program for flight and cabin crew, offering each fully vaccinated employee one additional paid vacation day.

In New York, vaccinated members of the public can claim a free serving of french fries from the gourmet burger chain Shake Shack, as publicized in an excruciating video featuring Mayor Bill de Blasio. Other food and drinks companies jumping on the bandwagon include Krispy Kreme, White Castle, Nathan’s Famous, Budweiser and Sam Adams.

The state of West Virginia has announced it will give out $100 savings bonds to all 16-to-35-year-olds who get vaccinated against Covid-19, including people who have already received a shot.

Meanwhile, one enterprising marijuana dispensary in Walled Lake, Michigan, is giving any vaccinated person over the age of 21 a free pre-rolled joint, in a campaign called “Pot for Shots.”

Perhaps the most generous offer so far is Ohio Republican governor Mike DeWine’s Vax-a-Million lottery initiative, in which vaccinated adult residents could win one of five $1 million lottery prizes. Ohio is also offering younger people the opportunity to win one full four-year college scholarship — so far, over 104,000 have registered. 

Earlier this month, a new vaccination site at a shooting range in Sparta, Illinois, announced it will give 100 free target rounds to those who are vaccinated there. “If you come and get vaccinated at the World Shooting Recreational Complex vax site — which is already completely free — you’ll get 100 FREE targets of trap, skeet, or sporting clays, to use any time before the end of October,” said Illinois’ Democratic governor J.B. Pritzker. “These vaccines are incredibly effective and protective for the person who gets them, but just as important, they make the whole community safer.”

In less wealthy countries, special offers are being aimed at communities that have been hit hard by the economic effects of the pandemic. A town of 43,000 in northern Thailand has launched a raffle for vaccinated residents to win one live cow per week for the rest of 2021. “Our vaccine registration numbers have gone from hundreds to thousands in a couple of days,” district chief Boonlue Thamtharanurak told Reuters. “The villagers love cows. Cows can be sold for cash.”

Not everyone agrees that incentivization works. Anna Baker, senior lecturer in health psychology at London Metropolitan University, believes that cash incentives or prizes are “unlikely to pick up all of those people who are resistant.” 

“It depends on who is being targeted, because it may not get over those psychological barriers by giving someone a financial reward,” she said.

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