By Alan Resnick
Jeff and Karen were finishing lunch when Jeff took a sip of water and said, “Hon, I’m going out with the guys for a few hours this afternoon, but I’ll be back in time for dinner.”
Karen looked up and responded, “Good for you. You deserve some time with your buddies. Playing nine holes or shooting pool?”
“Neither,” he replied. “We’re going to get our Covid-19 vaccinations.”
Karen was stunned but also elated.
“That’s wonderful, I’m so proud of you!” she exclaimed. “But I have to say I’m really surprised. You’ve been an anti-vaxxer since Day One. I’m thrilled you changed your mind, but I’m curious what changed it.”
“Well, I’ve been doing some thinking,” Jeff said. “I’d like to get back to going out for dinner with you, and many of the restaurants we like are requesting people wear masks or show proof of vaccination. And we talked about going on a cruise, but it looks like we’re going to have to show our vaccination cards before we can go.”
“Better late than never,” Karen said. “So where are you guys getting your shots? The Walgreens by Keith’s house?”
“No. I was in there a couple of days ago and people were sitting in the middle of aisles with their sleeves rolled up. It was a little too public for my taste.”
Trying to be supportive, Karen said: “I get that. I know they’re doing vaccinations at City Hall.” But Jeff replied, “No, that’s a 20-minute drive.”
“OK, so where are you getting yours?” Karen asked.
Jeff’s face reddened and he glanced down at the tabletop. “At Deuces Wild,” he said.
Karen was incredulous.
“You guys are going to that strip joint by Vic’s house?” she said, her voice rising. “Since when does a strip club offer Covid-19 vaccinations?”
Jeff fidgeted in his seat. “It’s a gentlemen’s club, Karen,” he replied, somewhat defensively. “And it wasn’t my idea, it was Vic’s. He saw it in today’s paper. You know how squeamish he is about anything medical, so he asked Keith and me to come with him for moral support. It’s the least I can do for a good pal.”
Karen rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you’re a real hero, Jeff.. Who’s administering these shots, one of the dancers or the bartender?”
“That would be dangerous, Karen,” Jeff responded. “A nurse from the county health department will do it.”
“I imagine you guys will like the short little nurse’s outfit she’ll be wearing,” Karen said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Why do you think this will take most of the afternoon? That club is small and you only have to wait 15 minutes after your shot to make sure there aren’t any side effects.”
“Karen, I don’t know how long the line will be,” Jeff said. “And I’d rather wait around a little longer just to be on the safe side.”
“Oh, of course you would!” Karen was exasperated. “Jeff, do you even know what vaccine is being given?”
“I think Vic said that it was Pfizer. So I suppose we’ll have to go back for another shot in about three weeks.”
“Well isn’t that a big surprise!” Karen said with a sneer.
While this conversation is fictional, I’ll bet it’s fairly representative of some of the chats that took place in Las Vegas households on May 21 when Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club opened early for several hours to serve as a walk-in clinic.
The next day, Associated Press reported that approximately 100 people, some of them club employees, took advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated at the joint. AP quoted JoAnn Rupiper, the chief nurse of the Southern Nevada Health District who monitored the event, as saying, “This is just another way to access our population.”
Across the land, folks are being rewarded in interesting ways for getting vaccinated. According to AP, Hustler’s sister club in New Orleans now offers incentives such as free admission, complimentary bottles of alcohol, and dances from a “vaccinated entertainer” to patrons who show proof that they, too, got their proper jabs.
“I just got my first shot” stickers sort of pale in comparison.
The strip club’s approach is perhaps the most extreme in a variety of incentive programs that are being rolled out now that national vaccination rates have begun to plateau far below the 75% level estimated as necessary for herd immunity. California announced it is giving away $116 million in cash and prizes. Ten lucky residents will win $1.5 million apiece, with 30 others bagging $50,000 each. The drawing is open to residents who have gotten at least one dose. Anyone who previously got their jab will be entered automatically. There is no need to register.
Another generous program is Ohio’s Vax-A-Million. Five vaccinated Ohio adults will win $1 million and five youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 will get four-year rides to the state’s universities. More than 2.7 million Buckeyes signed up. On May 26, a 22-year-old woman won the first $1 million pot, and a 14-year-old boy was awarded the first scholarship. Nonwinners need not despair — they will be eligible for future drawings.
“After announcing Vax-A-Million, the vaccination rate among Ohioan’s aged 20 to 49 increased 55%,” USA Today reported. Colorado, Maryland, New York, and Oregon have announced similar programs. Other states are not being quite as magnanimous.
Last month, for example, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy rolled out a “Shot and a Beer” campaign, offering vaccinated state residents free suds at selected breweries. And any resident who is vaccinated during the month of May can enter a drawing to win a private dinner with the Governor and his wife.
West Virginia is offering a $100 savings bond to residents between the ages of 16 and 35. Kentucky residents who get a jab at a Kroger or a Walmart in the state become eligible for a free lottery ticket in the nightly Cash Ball 225 drawing, where the daily prize is $225,000. And, according to Newsweek, “Vaccinated Kentuckians are also eligible for a dessert-on-a-stick from White Castle, glazed doughnuts from Krispy Kreme and lamination of their vaccination cards from Staples and Office Depot.”
Not to be outdone, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has announced a “Good Neighbor” program to boost vaccination rates among residents who do not have access to personal transportation. Anyone who signs up and drives a Detroiter to a vaccination site will receive a prepaid $50 debit card. And while a good neighbor will only be allowed to transport at most three residents at a time, there’s no limit on the number of trips a driver can make. However, those who accumulate more than $600 in gift cards will be required to complete a W9 form and file a 1099 with their 2021 tax return.
I’m not wild about the idea of these kind of incentives. My naïve or optimistic side believes that people should simply want to do the right thing to promote their own health, protect others, and help stop the pandemic. But I also understand that we live in a far more politicized and complex time then when I was vaccinated for polio in the 1950s.
I’m willing to trade my moral discomfort for the shot at herd immunity. But I wonder what will happen if booster shots become necessary or annual vaccinations are recommended, similar to the flu shot. Will folks lured by the promise of a gift card, lap dance, doughnut, beer, or lottery ticket expect another goodie? My pessimistic or cynical side says they will, particularly if there isn’t a better marketing program aimed at educating the skeptical or reluctant about the necessity of staying fully protected.
But in the hope of getting us to that target 75% vaccination rate, I humbly offer a few other surefire incentive programs:
“Shot and a Shot”—For the reluctant outdoorsman. Offered at firearms stores and gun ranges, enthusiasts can get a shot and squeeze off a few rounds on the house. A raffle will also be held with the lucky winner receiving a shooting iron of their choice.
“The One-Armed Bandit”—For gamblers. Why not have vaccination stations next to the slot machines in casinos? After all, it only takes one arm to operate a bandit. A nurse could administer the shot in the other. The player wouldn’t have to miss a spin and probably wouldn’t feel a thing. And the casino could offer five free spins to each person who gets vaccinated.
“An Evening with Marjorie Taylor Green or Matt Gaetz”—For Republicans only. Assuming these two controversial Congressional luminaries could be convinced to participate, this would likely cast the biggest net for the unvaccinated. You could enter drawings for one or both. The lucky winners would spend an evening with either Ms. Taylor Greene (R-Neptune) or Mr. Gaetz (R- Florida) swapping conspiracy theories and rehashing how the last presidential election was stolen. Please note that entrants must be at least 18 years of age to participate in the Gaetz drawing.
I’m sure I’m merely scratching the surface of possibilities. Feel free to share these with officials in your state or let your creative juices flow.
Some Prize! Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz!
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.