Statesboro city officials are for now abandoning the idea of prize drawings as COVID-19 vaccination incentives and instead focusing on using up the supply of $50 gift cards already in hand as rewards at a continued series of vaccination clinics.
The next free vaccination opportunity, with gift cards available, will be held this Tuesday, Sept. 28, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at City Hall, 50 East Main Street. It is open to people 12 years old and up, with those in the 12-17 age group required to be accompanied by a parent or guardian who will give vaccination permission.
Then two more vaccination clinics, with the city-purchased gift cards potentially available, are slated for Oct. 9, a Saturday, at Luetta Moore Park, and Oct. 23, also a Saturday, at City Hall. City officials said the Bulloch County Health Department has agreed to assist with all of these.
“I know we’ve all got COVID fatigue, but COVID is not getting tired,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said Tuesday evening. “COVID is still very serious. If you have not gotten the shot, get the shot. It’s safe. There’s a lot of myths, rumors and lies in relation to the vaccination. Get the vaccination; it’s saving lives.”
Area hospitals have reported that about 95% of the people recently hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, he noted.
“Ninety-five percent, and we still have a tremendous death toll,” McCollar said.
He called on Statesboro residents “to stand with Brooklet” which had just lost a police officer, a young woman, to the coronavirus and noted that Statesboro recently lost a firefighter. McCollar also noted that the mayor of Riceboro, Georgia – Mayor Joseph Harris – had died of it COVID-19 that morning.
McCollar made those remarks during this week’s City Council meeting, where the city manager announced the scaled back approach to public vaccination incentives. That required no action by the council, which actually voted to take no action.
But the council did take unanimous action to make larger vaccination rewards available to the city government’s own employees. That move adds at least $250 to the holiday bonus check of each employee who presents proof of vaccination and will increase that to $500 if a goal of having at least 80% of the city workforce vaccinated is met by Nov. 15.
For vaccination incentives for the general public, city staff members outlined a proposal in August for prize drawings, with cash prizes up ranging up to $5,000 for adults and big-ticket electronic gear such as laptops and game consoles for teenagers. Then legal advisors at the Georgia Municipal Association, or GMA, advised Statesboro officials that the city could not legally hold a raffle but could instead provide funding for a nonprofit charitable corporation to do so.
Tuesday evening, City Manager Charles Penny and City Attorney Cain Smith were slated to propose an agreement with a nonprofit corporation that would host the drawings.
But meanwhile, the first two city-sponsored vaccination clinics had fallen short of the goals implied by the number of $50 gift cards the council had approved purchasing. After the council funded 200 such cards for a vaccination clinic held Sept. 1 at City Hall, 68 people were vaccinated and received gift cards that day.
The council then approved funding to replace those 68 cards and add 100 more, so that 300 cards were available for a clinic held last Saturday at Luetta Moore Park. This time, with the Bulloch County Health Department, Statesboro Kiwanis Club, Squashing the Spread Bulloch and Bulloch County NAACP assisting in various ways, 87 people were vaccinated and received gift cards.
So at this point a total of 155 people have been vaccinated and received the bank-issued gift cards. That leaves 213 cards available, after the city spent $18,400 of its federal American Relief Plan Act cash on the cards.
“Based on the experience that we’ve had, the incentives really haven’t moved a lot,” Penny told the council, “and I was on a call with the GMA today, and that seems to be the indication across the state, that incentives are getting people vaccinated, but not at the rate that we’d like to see.”
The city’s effort had not moved the needle in the Georgia Department of Public Health’s tracking of Bulloch County’s vaccination rate, he reported. As of Friday, the DPH online dashboard showed 32% of Bulloch County residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to a 47% of people statewide.
“I would recommend to council that you continue to authorize us to give the gift cards because it is moving some folks,” Penny said. But he added that unless the result would be a minimum of 1,000 people getting vaccinated, he didn’t think the prize drawings would be worth the added cost.
Last Saturday, only 15 to 20 of the individuals vaccinated were in the 12-17 age bracket, and under the original proposal, the city would have spent $3,000 for the prize items, such as laptop computers, for teenagers, he said.
“I’d love to give 300 gift cards away, and that was the hope on Saturday, when we gave 87, and we’re happy about those 87,” Penny said. “On Sept. 28 I’d like to give the balance of those gift cards away, but I’m just not seeing it at this point.”
Tuesday’s agenda contained a draft of an agreement for a still unidentified charitable nonprofit corporation to handle prize drawings on behalf of the city, for a fee. But on a motion from District 4 Councilman John Riggs, seconded by District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers, the council voted 4-0 to take no action on the agreement.
A notice posted on the city’s Facebook page states that the first 200 people in line and vaccinated during Tuesday’s 9 a.m.-1 p.m. clinic will receive $50 gift cards. But as Penny indicated, officials would be surprised by such a large turnout and are planning to carry any remaining cards over to the future vaccination clinics.
The city might also send employees to distribute gift cards at vaccination events hosted by other organizations, he said.
He said the Health Department would bring the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines – which are both two-dose vaccines requiring a second shot at a later date – to Tuesday’s clinic at City Hall. The Pfizer vaccine is the one approved for youth ages 12-17.
The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was not promised, at that point, for this clinic.