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Looking back on Nevada’s efforts to incentivize COVID-19 vaccination

A close-up of latex-gloved hands pulling a syringe from a vial of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
The Sparks Fire Department’s first COVID-19 vaccine clinic for adults 70 and older at Sparks Parks and Recreation Gym on Feb. 22, 2021.

Over the summer, Nevada launched a historic campaign to incentivize residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck checked in with Heidi Parker, the head of Immunize Nevada, to look back on what they learned from the initiative.

Lucia Starbuck: Why was a campaign like this necessary?

Heidi Parker: I think we all know the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. And we know previously that incentives have helped with immunization rates. In the past, that may have looked like a gift card, or a bus pass, or something like that. But just the importance of getting our community vaccinated and getting people protected, especially our essential workers and those that were on the frontlines. This was just another way to incentivize and encourage people and then also reward them.

Starbuck: Can you talk about the trends in Nevada’s vaccination rate that you saw before this program was created?

Parker: If you look at the report that was shared, there had been, I think, a little dip in the rates prior, and so, it was good timing to really ensure that we continued on an upward trend.

Starbuck: And how many people got vaccinated during the eight-week promotion over the summer?

Parker: We had 440,988 vaccines [that] were administered during that time period.

Starbuck: How many can you attribute to Vax Nevada Days?

Parker: So I don’t think we can contribute, you know, we can’t make that exact connection. But I think what we can attribute to is just the community-wide effort to encourage vaccination. So we were able to increase the number of pop-up vaccine clinics, we were able to increase outreach. We had partners, you know, knocking on doors and canvassing, and we had other partners jump in with additional prizes. And so, I think all of those pieces really contributed to the success of it, which then, you know, contributed to an increase in immunization rates.

There are four graphics of Nevada showing how many vaccinated Nevadans won a fishing license, Nevada State Park pass, tuition assistance and a cash prize, along with what part of the state the recipients are from.
Immunize Nevada
Screenshot from Immunize Nevada’s report on the outcomes and awards given for Vax Nevada Days, Nevada’s COVID-19 vaccine incentive campaign from July 8 to Aug. 26, 2021.

Starbuck: Can you talk about the awards that were doled out? How did you come across a fishing license?

Parker: I think in the initial discussion of the program, it was important to us to issue a wide variety of prizes. If you look at some of the other state programs, there was maybe only a few prizes, right, few large prizes that were given out. We really wanted to make this a program that impacted a number of Nevadans, as well as that opportunity for our under 18 Nevadans to also benefit. I think the college plans were definitely one of my more favorite pieces of this program.

Starbuck: And what was the biggest challenge to running something like this?

Parker: We had not done anything like this before. And so, I think bringing on the partners that could help make it successful, making sure that we had enough people power to make all the phone calls, track down the winners, ensure them that it was a legitimate phone call and that they needed to call us back to accept to the prize.

Starbuck: Did you get the opportunity to make any of those calls and were you able to talk to recipients at all?

Parker: I did help with some of the calls early on, and it definitely, I would say, was heart filling, you know, in terms of how excited they were to win. But also really hearing their stories about how much they appreciated being able to get vaccinated, how much they were thankful for the vaccine, and for a lot of our winners, you know, some of the tragic sides of COVID-19 and the impact on their families. We heard a lot of stories of loss, and I think being able to give them maybe a little bit of a bright moment by being a winner, I think was impactful as well.

Starbuck: How do you feel about Nevada’s vaccination rate now?

Parker: Obviously, there’s room for improvement. And I think as we continue to just see age groups open up, people feeling more comfortable with getting vaccinated, you know, I think people have lots of reasons, and I think we’ll just continue seeing that increase. Right now, it’s one shot at a time.

Roughly 54% of Nevadans five years and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state’s dashboard. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations in Nevada here.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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