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Some New Yorkers say offer of $100 inspired them to get vaccinated

Anissa Barbato, left, discusses the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine with Jolanta Gawlik before her son Samuel, center, is vaccinated, Friday, July 30, 2021 in New York.
Anissa Barbato, left, discusses the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine with Jolanta Gawlik before her son Samuel, center, is vaccinated, Friday, July 30, 2021 in New York.Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Robert Byng was determined to receive his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Bushwick branch of the Brooklyn Public Library on Friday, and said that he had pushed back an interview to be there.

The reason? He needed the $100 that now comes with receiving your first dose at a city-run site.

Byng, 59, is living in a men’s shelter that he said has had plenty of positive cases. That coupled with the fact that he’ll receive $100 for getting his shot motivated him to get vaccinated.

“The $100 does kind of boost your want to get vaccinated,” he said. “Times are hard. That, plus I want to be safe. I’m not ready to die yet.”

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The city has tried all kinds of tactics to try to lure in residents to get vaccinated — from gift certificates and free tickets to soccer games and stays in some of the city’s glitziest hotels. Now, it’s simply giving out cash in a bid to entice members of groups whose vaccination rates have stayed stubbornly low. The Biden administration has urged other local and state governments to draw on COVID relief funds to offer similar bonuses.

On the first day the $100 incentives were being offered, foot traffic at vaccination sites in Brooklyn and the Bronx was relatively calm, as the new program was announced just this week.

But at least one group with low vaccination rates seemed to show up in large numbers — those ages 18-24.

Several students said they were there because their schools had made getting vaccinated a requirement to return in the fall.

“I’ve been meaning to get it, but just didn’t have the motivation to go until now,” said Sara Rose Monahan, 23, a student at Iona College. The school requires its students to be vaccinated to return, she said, but she said the cash reward “absolutely” pushed her to sign up sooner than she had planned.

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Ryan, 20, a student at St. John’s University who did not give his last name, said although vaccinations were mandatory to return in the fall, he signed up to get his first dose in the Bronx in order to get the $100 and two tickets to a New York City Football Club game.

“Two free tickets, I’m going to take them,” he said, laughing.

The incentives also urged him to ask his mother to sign up earlier than the fall.

“I probably would have waited until the last minute,” he said.

The cash incentive also helped persuade some who had been hesitant to get the vaccine earlier. Quiana Tineo, 18, a high school senior in the Bronx, said the $100 was what pushed her to swallow her uncertainty and sign up.

“I was thinking about it, but I was worried about the side effects,” Tineo said, adding that she is not fond of needles either.

And for some who were already planning on getting the shot, the $100 came as an added bonus.

Roger Wood, 60, of Brooklyn, said the $100 incentive was announced just after his pharmacist persuaded him to get vaccinated.

Until he talked to his pharmacist, he said, “I didn’t trust it. I wanted to wait.”

Byng, in Bushwick, said that he heard about the incentive through the news and that he was a little disappointed he wouldn’t receive the money immediately.

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“They said I had to go back on the site then register, then a card would be sent in the mail to my address,” he said. “I do think everybody needs to do it eventually, because it looks like COVID isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”