The Alachua County Commission voted to extend its vaccination incentives another month after a successful first month of the program.
In August, the commission approved a campaign to get more people vaccinated by offering $25 gift cards to people who got their shots between Sept. 1 and 30.
“We’ve had really good success with the gift cards,” county spokesperson Mark Sexton said. “We’ve had over 6,000 gift cards given out.”
The program was so successful that the County Commission decided during its Sept. 30 meeting to extend the incentives through October.
Alachua County is currently ahead of the state of Florida and the United States in vaccination rates. As of Oct. 8, 69% of Alachua County residents ages 12 and older have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while Florida is at a 68% vaccination rate and the U.S. is at a 65% rate.
Since the incentive program went into place, there has been a decrease in positive COVID-19 cases in Alachua County.
The week of Sept. 3, the first week of the program, there were 1,458 new positive COVID-19 cases. There were 427 new cases the week of Oct. 1.
While it may seem as if there was a decrease in vaccines administered during the month of September, the state releases the numbers for those who are newly vaccinated and does not include those who received their second or booster shots.
Sexton said that the number of those who have gotten their vaccine during the program is high and that it seems to be increasing rather than decreasing as the state numbers show.
Gift cards are given to anyone who gets a shot — first dose, second or booster — in the incentive month. Someone potentially could have gotten $50 in gift cards during the time.
The incentives were not given retroactively, though.
“We hope that the gift cards are convincing people to get their second shot, their booster shot as well as their first shot,” Sexton said
The funds for the incentive program come from the American Rescue Fund, which was given to the county to address the various impacts of the virus.
One of the main goals of the incentive program is to convince those who are still unsure of the vaccine to get it.
“If you haven’t gotten your first shot yet, it’s because you’ve been hesitant for whatever reason,” Sexton said. “If the gift card can help people by giving them that little nudge and it helps them to make that decision to get the vaccine, then it will have done its job.”
Mackenzie Carter, 33, heard about the incentive program through Facebook. The stay-at-home mother is supportive of the program, saying it’s important for everyone to get their shot. She said she wants people to know that everyone reacts differently to the shot.
“Not everyone will react the same to the shot,” she said. “My husband ran a high fever and had a sore body. I just had a sore body. My best friend had a sore body, the fever and the chills. It just matters how your body takes the shot.”
Twenty-one pharmacies are participating in the program including several CVS’s, two Winn-Dixies, Hitchcock’s, West End, Wise’s and Able pharmacies, along with the Florida Department of Health of Alachua County.
Cecilia Njeru, pharmacy manager at West End, said that her pharmacy was approached by the county to participate in the incentive and that she was happy to join, especially because the pharmacy was already administering vaccines.
Since the program started, she said that there has been an increase in people who come in to get their shot. She also said that she is happy that the program has been extended because it means that people will come back to West End to get their second shots.
“I really appreciate the incentive program,” she said. “It adds to the awareness; it really helps. If we can bring in one more person and appreciate them for coming in and show appreciation for them, it prevents one more life from being lost.”
Publix, Walmart and Walgreens did not participate in the program.
Alachua County has released a list of every pharmacy and location that is taking part in the gift card distribution, which can be found here.
“If you are interested in the gift card, it’s very important that you pick a place that’s participating,” said Sexton. “We also highly recommend you make sure that even if it’s a CVS to double-check. There are a couple of CVSs that are not participating.”
He also said to make sure that the gift card is received before getting the shot because afterward there’s no guarantee that the gift card will be given, and it will be too late to try to get one.
The county’s other goal is to get the vaccination rate for those 12 and older above 70%.
“We’re at 69% of those who are able to get vaccinated that have been vaccinated,” Sexton said. “We want to get that number up. The more folks we get vaccinated, the safer our community is, the safer our healthcare workers are and the less strain on our hospitals.”