Businesses Push New Mexico to Get COVID Vaccinations

Some enticements are designed for employees and others are for customers and the public. The incentives, some of which have been offered for weeks, acknowledge it’s necessary at times to nudge people toward good deeds.

A person receiving a vaccination in their arm.
<a href="https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/doctor-gloves-holding-syringe-making-injection-1766547584" target="_blank">Shutterstock/BaLL LunLa</a>
(TNS) -  It never hurts to receive a cash bonus or a tortilla after getting a coronavirus shot.

At Bueno Foods in Albuquerque, fully vaccinated employees received $70 each, and people who attended a company-organized vaccination clinic each got a package of tortillas.

Many businesses, groups and states hope to attract people to coronavirus vaccination clinics with treats, tickets, tuition and cash prizes.

Some enticements are designed for employees and others are for customers and the public. The incentives, some of which have been offered for weeks, acknowledge it's necessary at times to nudge people toward good deeds.

Following the lead of several local companies, New Mexico last week joined numerous states in offering a shot at big cash prizes for those who are vaccinated. For some, though, the incentives raise questions about the ethics of enticements and the appropriate use of tax money by states.

A national organization that conducts surveys and studies health issues says incentives have the potential to help but can backfire. The strongest incentive, the Kaiser Family Foundation said late last month, would be a vaccine with full Food and Drug Administration approval as opposed to the three vaccines that currently have emergency use authorization.

The demand for the shots has slowed since most of those who were enthusiastic about them already have been inoculated. That leaves a big group in New Mexico and nationwide that doesn't trust the vaccines or intends to wait and see what happens. About 56 percent of eligible New Mexico residents are fully vaccinated.

N. Ana Garner, a Santa Fe attorney who opposes the vaccines and coronavirus mask mandates, said she believes the state incentives defy federal law. State-given enticements represent "a form of pressure and coercion, which is illegal under the Emergency Use Authorization provision" of the FDA, Garner said in an email.

"If the shots were safe and effective, which they are neither, no one would need incentives to take them," she said.

The state said the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed American Rescue Plan stimulus money may be used for state lotteries, cash payouts and other incentives to raise vaccination rates.

The state last week announced a batch of incentives, including an opportunity for a vaccinated individual to win a $5 million cash prize. Other cash awards will be given away in the Vax 2 the Max sweepstakes. And some other gifts will be distributed, such as hunting and fishing licenses, to those who have been vaccinated.

Vaccination lotteries overseen by state governments also have popped up in Oregon, California, Ohio, West Virginia and many other states. Health officials in New Mexico referred Wednesday to strides made in Ohio after that state announced coronavirus shot lottery prizes. The idea is to convince the undecided to get vaccinated.

Still, the concept isn't popular with everyone. State Rep. Jim Townsend of Artesia called it a waste of tax money and a reward for simply doing the right thing.

State Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell said the payouts make the vaccination effort look bad.

"We have a vaccine so safe we have to pay people to get it," Pirtle said facetiously.

But many beneficiaries of incentive programs said they are appropriate and fun. The Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe said 98 percent of its staff already was fully vaccinated before the state incentives were announced.

The college offered its own incentives — a $50 Visa gift card for those who were fully vaccinated, plus a half-day off for employees if 90 percent of staffers and faculty members were fully vaccinated and another half-day off if they reached 95 percent.

"It was wonderful," said Laurie Logan Brayshaw, director of the institute's sponsored programs, which refers to grants from government and private sources. "It was just a great thank you" from the administration, she added.

She said the cost of health care, lost wages and loss of life from the coronavirus vastly outweigh any incentive costs.

"It was actually a bonding experience," she said of the institute's employees. "We're a community and we value our health and safety."

Various incentives, from money to tickets, have been offered or soon will be by many states. But individual companies and organizations are doing it as well: Albertsons, Trader Joe's, the NFL, the New York Yankees and Mets, Rowan University in New Jersey (discounted tuition and housing), Dollar General, Kroger supermarkets, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and others.

The New Mexico United soccer team has given out close to 1,000 tickets to those who have been vaccinated, a spokesman said. The team has had a giveaway program and two tailgate vaccination clinics in which tickets were distributed.

Vaccinated New Mexico United retail worker Rika Fernandez, 21, used her free tickets to take her mother, Sarah Economidy, to the United's home opener last month.

"It was awesome," said Economidy, 49.

Anthony Arias, a warehouse manager at Bueno Foods, said he talked some of his workers through their worries. "There's just a lot of misinformation out there," he said. "The incentives that we offered definitely motivated some people."

Those incentives included a $70 bonus for employees who were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by the company's 70th anniversary on May 18. The business also gave 10 cash gifts of $100 through a raffle for vaccinated employees.

And at a vaccination clinic overseen last month in Albuquerque by Bueno Foods and the state Environment Department, Bueno doled out packages of its tortillas.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported fairly small percentages of those who haven't been vaccinated say they'd be more inclined to get the shots if they were offered $100 by their state government, given free transportation to a clinic, awarded tickets to a sporting event or concert, or presented with a $20 coupon for food or drinks.

The foundation said four in 10 who aren't committed to getting the shots feel "unfairly pressured" by government, media, family and friends. And so enticements could "backfire with certain individuals," the foundation wrote late last month.

Dr. Tracie Collins, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, said other states have bumped up their vaccination rates by offering an enticement. Some people are entrenched in their opposition, but New Mexico officials hope a big group of those who are noncommittal will be swayed to get vaccinated.

There's evidence, Collins said, that it works.

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