ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz hopes giveaways including Minnesota State Fair tickets, fishing licenses and state park passes will help pick up the pace of coronavirus vaccinations in Minnesota, which has slowed.
The Democratic governor on Thursday announced that 100,000 people who are vaccinated between Memorial Day weekend and the end of June will be eligible to choose between nine vaccine reward options. The incentives include college baseball tickets, amusement parks passes and a $25 Visa card, among other options.
Walz called the incentive program a “wonderful opportunity” to vaccinate more Minnesota residents while virus case numbers remain low and more people head outdoors this summer.
“All of those things are the perfect timing to get the last bunch of folks to get in and get vaccinated,” Walz said during a news conference Thursday. “Take advantage of the incentives that we're offering and get out and explore Minnesota. You, your family and your community will be safe and you'll get to see the great things that we have.”
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks after a bump in cases last month driven by virus variants. State health officials reported zero deaths earlier this week for the third time this month, and daily deaths haven’t totaled more than 22 in months.
Walz said the state’s vaccination efforts helped blunt the surge in case growth while minimizing hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus.
Vaccinations in Minnesota continue to climb, but at a much slower pace than in the early months of the state’s vaccine campaign. More than 2.5 million Minnesota residents 16 and older have been fully inoculated.
The goal is for 70% of Minnesota residents age 16 and older to have received at least one dose by July 1, a target President Joe Biden has set for the country. The state sits at 64% — nearly 2.9 million residents — with at least one dose of vaccine as of Tuesday, just shy of Biden's goal but higher than the national average of nearly 50% with one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan on Wednesday criticized Walz for offering the incentives to get vaccinated while continuing to offer unemployment benefits, which she called “excessive” and an incentive to not return to the workforce.
Other states are using lotteries as an incentive to get more people vaccinated, including Ohio, Colorado, Maryland, New York state and Oregon.
A southwestern Ohio woman won the state’s first $1 million Vax-a-Million vaccination prize, while a Dayton-area teen was awarded the first full-ride college scholarship offered by the incentive program, the state announced Wednesday night. More than 2.7 million adults signed up for the $1 million prize in Ohio and more than 104,000 children ages 12 to 17 entered the drawing for the college scholarship.
Walz said state officials chose these incentives to encourage people to go outdoors and ensure more people got a reward instead of a lottery system where a handful received the prize. The governor left the door open for larger prizes in the future should the vaccination rate continue to slow down further.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.