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Free Stuff for a Vaccine? Will Incentives Work to Improve New York's Vaccine Rate?

Fei Lu, Host Intro: This is Uptown Radio. I’m Fei Lu. Over three quarters of all New Yorkers have already had their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Now New York City is doing everything it can to convince those last 2 million to get the jab. And that means they’re sweetening the deal – free Yankees tickets, donuts and now, metrocards. Karen Maniraho went to Grand Central terminal to see whether bribery could get New York’s numbers up.

AMBI: (Train sounds)

Karen Maniraho, Byline: From Wednesday, May 12th to Sunday, May 16th, New Yorkers can get a free seven-day metrocard after they get the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

And the perks don’t stop there. With a vaccine, you could head to the Aquarium, the Zoo, the Botanical Garden. All for free.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Anyone who's not gotten vaccinated, now is the time. We want to make it easier and we want to make it fun and we want to give you some incentives.

Maniraho: Researchers say there’s evidence that incentives work. Stephen Higgins, the Director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health, recently published a paper about strategies to increase vaccine adherence.

Higgins: Financial incentives can be quite helpful in improving adherence to vaccine regimens. Cash is the best because it's the least restrictive.

Maniraho: I spent an hour talking to people in Grand Central. Encouragingly, everyone I spoke to was vaccinated and on board with the program.

Miles: Hi, my name is Miles. I got the Johnson & Johnson about a month ago or so. It's trustworthy, like you should get a vaccine that have clinical trials that prove that these things work, so you should get it and it's an incentive. And if people think of it as buying their trust, sure, their trust shouldn’t be bought. It is trustworthy. And now you get some free rides on the subway. Awesome.

Martin: It’s Martin. It’s sad that you have to incentivize people. When I was a kid – I grew up in Germany – the first document I ever possessed was basically a vaccination booklet that basically showed all the shots you got as a little kid. And I carried that on until I was in my twenties.

Alex Ewenczyk: My name is Alex Ewenczyk. I'm a psychology resident in the Bronx. I think that there are some cases where incentivizing for public health could be detrimental to sort of even people's independent thinking process. But in this situation, particularly, I do think that it's necessary to try to get people to get vaccinated, not just for their individual purposes, but for society at-large.

Karen Maniraho, Columbia Radio News.

Ambi: (Train door closing)

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