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Coffee, beer, doughnuts: How to coax busy Americans into getting a COVID-19 shot

States are right to get creative in enticing holdouts to get their COVID-19 vaccines.

Doughnuts are sold at a Krispy Kreme store on May 05, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The chain has donated 1.5 million free donuts, and counting, to people who have been vaccinated.
Doughnuts are sold at a Krispy Kreme store on May 05, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The chain has donated 1.5 million free donuts, and counting, to people who have been vaccinated.Scott Olson/Getty

On Wednesday, Anheuser-Busch announced it would give every American a free beer if the country meets President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July 4. It’s not the only company that has risen to the occasion during the COVID-19 crisis: Krispy Kreme, for example, has donated 1.5 million free doughnuts, and counting, to people who have been vaccinated. The Hustler Club in Las Vegas offered free dances from a “vaccinated entertainer.” States have also offered direct incentives to residents who get their shot: fishing licenses in Minnesota, entry into a drawing for free rifles and shotguns in West Virginia, a prize of up to $5 million in New Mexico.

Gimmicks? Sure. But in the race to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible, the private and public sectors are right to get creative. Even here in Massachusetts, which now has one of the most effective COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in the United States, reaching the remaining unvaccinated population is going to require a concerted public and private effort.


Over two-thirds of residents of the Commonwealth have received at least one dose — including over three-quarters of the eligible population — and more than half are fully vaccinated. The state’s numbers consistently rank near the top. It’s promising, too, that Massachusetts has the lowest vaccine hesitancy rate in the country of only 7 percent, meaning that many unvaccinated people may still be planning to get the vaccine.

Still, the distribution of vaccines has been unequal, and some parts of Massachusetts still have a long way to go. While some municipalities have vaccinated nearly all of their residents, for example, others, particularly those in more rural parts of the state, have vaccination rates as low as 12 percent. Even if people aren’t strictly against the idea of receiving the vaccine, they might still need to be nudged to get it sooner rather than later. And the state and businesses should do all that they can to give residents that extra push. It’s not just for their own sake: The faster people get shots, the sooner normal life and economic activity can resume for everyone.


Some incentive programs seem to have promising results. And though it remains unknown how effective they actually are given the wide range of contributing factors to the decision to get a vaccine, the seriousness and unprecedented death toll of the pandemic make unconventional approaches worth trying. While some local businesses, like Dunkin’ and Market Basket, are already doing that in Massachusetts with the help of the state, direct cash payments remain an underused tool. Getting the vaccine, while free, is still costly to some people who can’t afford taking time off to go to their appointment or if they have side effects, and checks from the government can help offset any costs residents might incur.

That’s also why incentive programs, on their own, are simply not enough to go the last mile. Employers have to do more to accommodate their employees’ needs, like offering workers an extra paid sick day if they need time off for the vaccine and actively encouraging them to take it. And, as this editorial board argued before, some employers in high-risk fields, including the state, ought to begin imposing vaccine mandates, which are the most effective way to get people vaccinated within a reasonable time frame.


There’s also the matter of convenience. For many residents who have yet to get the shot, hesitancy is not their main deterrent, but rather the effort they have to put in. Access to the vaccine remains largely influenced by race, class, and education, as is evident across Massachusetts, and rural areas in the state have significantly less access to the vaccine than urban areas. The Baker administration has so far taken the right approach in phasing out some mass vaccination sites in order to direct resources toward regional sites, mobile clinics, and primary care providers, who can help boost confidence in the vaccine among their patients. It’s critical to ensure that getting the vaccine is as convenient as humanly possible, and that means delivering it as close to residents as providers can, including people’s homes.

While this phase in COVID-19 vaccine distribution feels like the final push toward the ever elusive herd immunity goal, it’s actually only the beginning. It is likely that Americans will need booster shots in the fall, and with the rest of the world still lagging in vaccinations, the pandemic is nowhere near its end. That’s ultimately why the state should take the most holistic approach to finishing this cycle of COVID-19 vaccines by not only handing out prizes, but also ensuring that the vaccine is, in fact, cost-free to everyone and easy to access in all corners of the state. In the end, it’s not just a matter of making residents want to get the vaccine now; it’s about getting residents ready and enthusiastic to line up again for the next round of vaccines.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.