CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Getting a COVID-19 vaccine just got a lot more exciting for a lot of people after Governor Cooper upped the ante and announced $1 million cash prizes for North Carolinians who get the shot. Plus, four teens ages 12 to 17 will win $125,000 towards a college education. It's all in an effort to get more people vaccinated as demand continues to drop off.
In Mecklenburg County, they’re hoping it will help raise vaccination rates and close some of the disparities they are continuing to see. Vaccine providers are trying to oversaturate certain neighborhoods with COVID-19 vaccine.
“We didn't get here overnight and we won't get out of this overnight,” Dr. Raynard Washington, Mecklenburg County Deputy Health Director, said of those disparities.
The familiar crescent and wedge disparity is playing out in Mecklenburg County vaccination rates. Looking at the map, the wealthier zip codes have the highest vaccination rates and East and West Charlotte have fewer people vaccinated.
“Those areas have higher rates of racial-ethnic minorities as well as a lower median income and a number of other health challenges and access challenges,” Washington said of those neighborhoods where vaccination uptake has been slower.
It's why they've had boots on the ground going door to door in those areas to have personal conversations with people who may be hesitant. Most of their clinics and community events are intentionally in those zip codes, along with the $25 cash card incentives. There are small signs it's working.
“Over the last several weeks we have started to see some progress specifically when we look demographically,” Washington said.
Last week, of everyone vaccinated in the county, 21% were Black and 57% were white. This week's state data shows 24% of the vaccinated population is Black, and 57% is white. Health leaders hoping by being virtually everywhere with vaccine, these trends will continue.
“Wherever we can go to have a clinic, we will basically try to be there,” he said.
And the possibility of winning $1 million is changing some minds.
Stephen Mansel walks past StarMed’s vaccine clinic all the time. The $25 gift card wasn't enough to convince him to stop, but he changed his tune after learning he'd automatically be entered into a lottery for a million dollars.
“It’s like night and day, of course, a million I could do better with a million than $25," Mansel said.
He’s not vaccinated yet, he said he’s too scared to get the shot. But the excitement about the money overrides those fears.
“Yeah, that’s a lot of money. So, I might as well get a shot and try to win a million,” he said. “That sounds like a good idea."
It's exactly what state leaders were hoping would happen.
“Who wouldn't want to have a million dollars,” Victor Rodriguez said after getting vaccinated.
They say data from other states show this entices a new group of people to get vaccinated.
“There are still a lot of folks who have bought into some of these conspiracies about vaccines and don't trust systems and science and I think a million dollars for some people will be an incentive for them to put aside some things that might not be logical in the first place,” Washington said.
He says now, there are shots in doctors and pediatricians’ offices, grocery stores and pharmacies, and at popular places like breweries and black food truck Friday.
They say the real prize is more people being protected.
“The money sounds great but it’s about your health,” Jamaliel Rodriguez said.
Anyone who gets vaccinated by Aug. 4 is entered twice.
This weekend, there are clinics at seven different CMS schools.