Justice to offer incentives for youth vaccinations
CHARLESTON — In order to help get over the wall of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and help incentivize eligible teenagers and young adults, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday that the state could give out savings bonds in exchange for shots in arms.
During his Monday COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol Building, Justice offered state residents between the ages of 16 and 35 a $100 U.S. Savings bond once they get vaccinated with ether the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that was previously paused.
“In trying to come up with a way that is truly going to motivate them and us get over the hump, we are announcing today … we’re going to give every single one of these people … a $100 savings bond.”
According to Justice, more than 52 percent of the state’s 1.47 million eligible residents have been vaccinated. Of the 1.47 million eligible West Virginians, 380,000 are between the ages of 16 and 35.
“They’re not taking the vaccines as fast as we’d like them to take them,” Justice said. “If we really want to move this needle and we want to move it right now … we’ve got to get to a situation where we can shut this thing down.”
The program will be paid for out of the $615 million the state still has on hand from the federal C.A.R.E.S. Act. The program is expected to cost $27.5 million if more than 72 percent of the 380,000 target chooses to be vaccinated. Justice said his legal team vetted the use of C.A.R.E.S. Act funds for the savings bond program, though it’s possible that U.S. Treasury Department rules might not allow the state to do that.
“We hope that you keep it for a long, long time,” Justice said. “I hope that it signifies to you just what this great country is all about, because at this time you are stepping up to shut this thing down.”
Justice and state health officials are concerned that as much as 588,000 of the 1.47 million residents — roughly 40 percent of those eligible for vaccine doses — might choose to not get vaccinated. Justice said his health team is working on outreach to hesitant West Virginians.
“We’ve got to beat 588 bad,” Justice said.
Last week, Justice set a statewide goal of 70 percent for partial vaccinations, meaning residents have the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines which both require two doses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted a week-long pause over the weekend for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine while they investigated a small number of rare blood clotting incidents. West Virginia followed suit, resuming use of the one-shot vaccine.
If the state can hit 70 percent for partially vaccinated residents, Justice said the public indoor mask requirement will be lifted. With the state already at more than 52 percent and if 275,000 teenagers and young adults step up and get vaccinated, Justice said the state can it the 70-percent target easily.
“All of our health experts have said if we can get to 70 percent, we’ll shut this thing down,” Justice said. “All I can go by is the advice of our medical team and our experts.”
Justice said he expects the number of eligible West Virginians to changes of the FDA approves the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15.
The state joint interagency task force for vaccines is also working on ideas to get shots in arms. Vaccines were offered at West Virginia University’s Gold and Blue Spring football game in Morgantown Saturday. The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission and the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department are providing vaccination opportunities during the girls and boys high school basketball championships in Charleston this week.
Other ideas for vaccine distribution include creating branded tents for more visibility, fixed tent sites, mobile vehicles for rural distribution, setting up vaccination sites at fairs and festivals, teaming up with churches, other Spring and Summer sporting events, opening sites at state and county parks, partnering with local non-profits, monthly drawings for the vaccinated, and more.
“We’re going to just have to do more than that,” Justice said.