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StarMed is buying its own gift cards after state's $25 cash cards run out

Vaccine providers across the county say the incentive program seems to be working, and there's been an increase in demand for COVID-19 shots.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two weeks ago, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services started offering $25 cash cards to people getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or someone dropping off a friend or family member.  

So far, it looks like the incentives are working to drive up vaccination rates.

StarMed Healthcare officials told WCNC Charlotte they’ve seen at least a 15% increase in demand.

“It’s been an incredible success. Every day it gets bigger and bigger, more people are interested, more people are talking about it, so we've been really excited and encouraged by the success up to this point,” said Tracy Hummell, the chief operating officer of StarMed Healthcare.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department seeing a small spike in vaccination rates too.

"I just happened to come by and they said well you can go get your shot and get a free gift card so I took advantage of it,” Jason Tribue said after getting vaccinated at the Mecklenburg County Health Department on Beatties Ford Road.

It’s the exact response state leaders were hoping for when they started offering a $25 gift card at certain vaccination clinics. Vaccination rates have slowed down and a few weeks ago, Health Director Gibbie Harris seemed skeptical they could help but said her fingers were crossed that this would push more people in to protect themselves.

At Tuesday night’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, she seemed pleasantly surprised by the results.

RELATED: US likely to miss goal of 70% partially vaccinated by July 4

“It has proven to be fairly effective, probably even more so than we thought,” Harris said.

Across the county, they've seen demand go up a bit.

“One good example is our clinic at the northwest health department. The week before last, we saw two people come in for vaccines, and last week we saw 40 in that same time frame,” Harris said.

State health officials told WCNC Charlotte they've given more than 1,700 gift cards to people getting vaccinated and more than 700 to people who dropped someone off. That’s more than $60,000 in incentives. The state reports 25% of the people they surveyed said it was the cash that motivated them.

“We know that we're going to be able to offer these cash cards for at least the next several weeks and possibly on past that, we're waiting to see how the state is going to move forward with that,” Harris said.

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At StarMed, the success has a downside. Earlier this week, they ran out of gift cards from the state. Now, they're digging into their own pockets so they can still pay up. Hummell said the interest has been great but the state wasn't fully prepared for the response.

“Exhausting that supply is the position we're in right now,” Hummell said.

She said since the beginning of the week, StarMed has been footing the bill and buying their own gift cards so they can hold up their end of the deal.

“We don't want anyone showing up expecting $25 in case that’s their meal for tonight and not being able to offer that to them,” she said. “So for us, it’s just as important to give back even if on our own dime.”

A spokesperson for NCDHHS said in a statement, in part, "The pilot ran from May 26 – June 8 and cards were offered at participating locations while supplies lasted. Through this pilot, we are seeing that the financial support is making a difference and are considering ways to expand the program. Vaccine providers are offering both state-sponsored summer cash cards and other incentives, such as ones that they fund or from partnerships with community organizations or businesses."

RELATED: 'Significant increases' | $25 cash cards seem to be helping vaccine efforts in Mecklenburg County

At this point, Hummell is not sure if the state will reimburse them but says StarMed will stay committed to the incentive program because of how well it seems to be working.

“We attract another group of individuals that maybe wasn't as motivated to get it but now are motivated. So, I think continuing to offer incentives is really going to help to meet those goals that our governor and our president have set for us,” she said.

The county will be giving out cash cards at several different locations this week. On Thursday they’ll be at the Southwest Health Department on Billingsley Road from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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