Why Biden’s Fourth of July vaccination goal will fall short, according to this Wharton professor

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event in the South Court Auditorium of the White House June 2, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Biden administration says it will fall short of its Fourth of July vaccination goal

All the free beer, doughnuts and baseball tickets won’t be enough to keep up the pace of vaccinations.

President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one shot in the arms of 70% of U.S. adults before the Fourth of July holiday is set to fall short.

At the current pace of vaccinations administered, about 67% of adults will be at least partially vaccinated by then, according to a CNBC analysis of CDC data.

The president said he hoped Independence Day would mark a turning point in the pandemic.

And yet, inoculation efforts in some states have hit a wall even as the delta variant of the disease spreads rapidly across the country.

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From Krispy Kreme to cold-hard cash, there’s no shortage of incentives now to entice Americans to get the Covid vaccine. But vaccination rates remain under 70% and are likely to stay there, according to Iwan Barankay, a professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton.

“These incentives are a great idea and they are very appealing, but the evidence is just not there that these incentives are addressing the barriers,” Barankay said.

“We are getting into a population of people who are vehemently opposed or have too complicated a living situation,” he said. This group won’t be swayed by vaccine sweeteners, like cash giveaways, sports tickets and free food, he added.

For some, socio-economic obstacles remain, such as lining up childcare or getting time off work to get vaccinated.

Barankay has spent years studying what works to encourage patients to take their medications. Financial incentives aren’t persuasive for patients who have complicated lives, he said. Low income, inadequate housing, lack of transportation and providing care to others in the household are all factors that can stand in the way.

In some cases, there is no amount of incentive you can offer people.
Iwan Barankay
Wharton professor

For others there are behavioral hurdles as well, including skepticism about the vaccine, which can be even more difficult to overcome.

“In some cases, there is no amount of incentive you can offer people,” Barankay said.

Some Americans, especially in Black, Hispanic and rural communities, are more vaccine hesitant when it comes to Covid shots specifically.  

“People are influenced by others around them,” Barankay said. “If you can change the behavior of one person in a community, it has a multiplier effect, but this is much more difficult work.”

Still, as vaccination rates plateau, public and private groups continue to up the ante — from million-dollar payouts and even marijuana or a spin around a NASCAR track — to encourage more immunizations.

In May, Maryland held the first of its $40,000 lottery drawings for people who have been vaccinated. Forty consecutive days of drawings for a $40,000 prize end on July 4 with a final drawing for a $400,000 payout.

Ohio is also holding a series of drawings for cash prizes, with its own “Vax-a-Million” contest.

On the private front, Krispy Kreme in March became one of the first businesses to roll out a nationwide Covid vaccine incentive, offering a free glazed doughnut to any adult with a vaccination card. The company said it had already given away more than 1.5 million doughnuts. (The offer still stands through the remainder of the year.)

And Anheuser-Busch recently said it would buy anyone over 21 “a round of beer” once Biden’s 70% goal is met on July 4.

A handful of states have reported that vaccine incentive programs have increased local vaccination numbers in some demographics after recent drops.

For its part, Ohio said its vaccination rates doubled in some counties after the state vaccine lottery was announced.

Recent data shows that the gambit might be effective among certain groups, and with little downside overall, according to a report by Morning Consult.

The poll of 2,200 adults, including nearly 1,600 people who are unvaccinated, found that men are more inclined than women to say these offers would make them sign up to receive a shot.

Democrats, more than Republicans, also said they’d be more likely to get vaccinated if they could get free goods or services and, when broken down by generation, millennials were the most likely to say certain freebies would encourage them to get vaccinated.

A separate survey by Blackhawk Network found that money was the most preferred motivator, over a sweepstakes, paid time off, free food or drinks or other merchandise.

Roughly 66% of unvaccinated adults said they would accept a monetary incentive and 44% said they would even get vaccinated for $100 or less. Blackhawk Network polled more than 3,000 adults in June.

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