Vaccine incentives: FL venues offer gift cards, food vouchers; other states promote huge prizes

By: - September 2, 2021 5:08 pm

States have been distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Credit: Marko Geber/Getty Images

On the COVID-19 vaccine front, states across the country promote giveaways, scholarships and large cash prizes to urge residents to get the shots. But Florida’s meager offerings can’t compare to other states.

California, for example, gave away cash prizes of $50,000 to 15 residents in June, part of a cash prize drawing, according to the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom. In Ohio this summer, the Department of Health and the Ohio Lottery announced an award of $1 million and a full-ride college scholarship to two winners of its “Vax-a-Million” drawing.

Meanwhile, one of Florida’s vaccine incentives earlier this summer was a $10 food voucher for use at grocery stores, according to the state health department.

Some of Florida’s public universities have launched vaccine clinics for students, faculty, and staff.  And some of those on-campus clinics offer incentive programs, rewarding students with gift cards of at least $50 to $150 for getting vaccinated.

Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers is doing a cash drawing for students who get vaccinated and one winner will receive a $1,000 check, according to its website.

Colleges and universities across the state haven’t mandated vaccines for students to enroll during the fall semester, but it’s strongly recommended.

At this juncture, 53.2-percent of Florida residents have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), slightly above the national average of 52.6 percent. But Florida’s rate is still lower than many other states.

Overall, Florida’s vaccination rate is ranked 22 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. But California and New York, among other states, have higher figures for getting residents fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been traveling across the state over the last few weeks promoting monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 infections, which are copies of antibodies from patients whose immune systems have overcome infections. DeSantis is focusing on letting the public  know about the antibody treatments, though he does continue talking about vaccinations.

Florida International University, in Miami, has various pop-up sites for students, faculty and staff and has its own incentive program, said Dr. Cheryl Holder, a professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at FIU. She is also the associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusivity, and community initiative.

One of the sites is conveniently located at the student center, Holder said, where vaccinated people receive a $150 gift card for purchases on campus.

“They don’t have to go far. We didn’t just put it in the health center, it’s right where they go for lunch and to socialize,” Holder said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix.

Holder also stressed the importance for students to do their part in tackling the pandemic by getting vaccinated. Holder told the Phoenix “it’s very important” for college students to get inoculated, especially at FIU “where most of our students are commuters” and have family members in their households who may be at an increased risk of illness.

“They’re coming into school and going home. They are going to have some of the conditions that may have multigeneration in their homes, so it’s important that everyone is vaccinated,” she said.

In Tallahassee, Florida State University is encouraging the FSU community to get vaccinated before Sunday’s football game against Notre Dame, which is expected to bring in a large crowd. The university announced Wednesday that the first 250 students, faculty or staff to get a shot at its vaccine clinic near the stadium will get a $50 gift card for on-campus use.

Ahead of Saturday’s football game at the University of Florida, two pop-up vaccine clinics on the campus will be available to anyone, said spokeswoman Cynthia Roldán. She also said that UF has surprised people in line for vaccinations with gifts, such as AirPods.

UF announced in August that everyone is expected to wear a face mask “while inside any UF facility,” Roldán added.

“We are incredibly grateful and proud of our students and staff who have responded overwhelmingly in a positive manner,” Roldán said in an email to the Phoenix.

The University of South Florida, in Tampa, has vaccine clinics but doesn’t have “any incentive program,” said spokesperson Althea Johnson.

Rachel Williams, spokeswoman for the University of Central Florida, told the Phoenix that the university launched “a vaccine incentive raffle for students” this week and the Pfizer vaccine is offered at the Student Health Center.

University of North Florida in Jacksonville’s incentive is a $100 gift card to urge students to get vaccinated.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.