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NC Gov. Cooper visits Charlotte Thursday for vaccination rollout update

Gov. Roy Cooper said North Carolina is considering larger prizes to encourage folks to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, the state is giving out $25 cash cards.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper was in Charlotte Thursday to visit a COVID-19 vaccine clinic as state and county health leaders look to ramp up vaccination rates. 

Cooper visited StarMed Healthcare's vaccine clinic on Tuckaseegee Road in Northwest Charlotte.

Part of StarMed's mission is to reach historically underserved communities, the areas where there’s more vaccine hesitancy and slower vaccine uptake.

Gov. Cooper said the state has hit a plateau in vaccinations and stressed the need to get more people to roll up their sleeves.

“We have people dying most every day, still, of this virus. So, it is not over. The good thing about being vaccinated is that you know there’s very little chance you're going to get it or give it,” Cooper said.

Over 25,000 vaccinations have been given at StarMed’s Tuckaseegee Road location. CEO Michael Estramonte said they're making progress.

“Nationally, the vaccination rate for African American and Hispanic communities has been 29%. StarMed sites run at 37%," Estramonte said.

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StarMed is just one piece of the puzzle as the state strives towards getting 70% of the population partially vaccinated by the 4th of July. Right now, 43% of the state’s population is partially vaccinated.

That goal, seemingly out of reach.

"That’s why we are looking at all of these incentives to try to get more people vaccinated we are not alone in this. Almost every state has faced a plateau that they've hit right now so we've got to keep working and hopefully we can get there eventually,” Cooper said.

He said the $25 incentive being offered in select counties is convincing some people to come get a shot and he’s not ruling out offering up a bigger prize.

“I think different people are motivated by different things,” Cooper said.

Other states, like Ohio, are offering the chance at a $1 million prize.

“If the data says that those kinds of things can help us then we want to try to put that into place,” Cooper said. “I'm getting mine because it’s going to save life and protect my family but if someone gave me a $25 gift card, I’d take it."

But there are people who simply do not want the shot, regardless of incentive, so officials are staying focused on education too.

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“We also are encouraging faith leaders, we're working with community leaders in trying to develop that trust to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Cooper said.

He didn't give a timeline for when these larger incentives could be offered, he just said as soon as possible.

On Wednesday, select clinics in Mecklenburg County began offering $25 cash cards as an incentive to encourage more people to take the shot. The cards, which are part of a pilot program by the state, also give $25 cards to drivers who bring friends or family members to get their first dose of the vaccine. According to Cooper, the state gave out about 1,000 cards to people for taking the shot and another 375 to drivers during the first week. 

Cooper also said North Carolina could offer larger prizes, like what's been done in states like Maryland and Ohio

"We've looked very closely at the drawings and promotions that other states have done and hopefully we will be following their lead soon," Cooper said Wednesday. 

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The incentives, which are also encouraged by the White House to push the U.S. closer to herd immunity, are being offered as vaccination rates in North Carolina have flattened a bit. In the Charlotte area during the week of April 9, the 7-day rolling average number of shots Novant Health gave was 1,449. That’s the same week everyone 16 and older became eligible to get vaccinated. Last week, the rolling average was 526 shots.

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The $25 cash cards aren't as much as other states are offering, but health officials are still optimistic it's enough to convince some people to take the shot. 

"In an ideal world, everyone would already be vaccinated because we now have the supply and capacity to do so, but at this point, it's just so important for us to get higher numbers of people vaccinated that we're excited to be participating in this pilot," said Dr. Meg Sullivan with the Mecklenburg County Health Department. 

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