HENNEPIN COUNTY, Minn. — According to the CDC, the delta variant now accounts for 8 out of 10 new COVID cases. With new cases potentially on the rise again, officials are calling it the "pandemic of the unvaccinated."
People are scrambling to figure out how to get those who are unprotected to change their minds, but it's not a simple answer that officials are searching for.
"Shots in arms, shots in arms, shots in arms."
If we chanted that three times, we'd get there right?
Well, if it was that simple, Hennepin County wouldn't have had to be so inventive.
"For your first shot you'll receive a $50 gift card, for your second shot you'll receive another $50 gift card, so a hundred dollars," Hennepin County District Six commissioner Chris LaTondresse said.
That's $100 worth of VISA gift cards, which are basically as good as cash.
The incentive is the brain child of LaTondresse.
"The first round of this incentive program started in early July, with a $100,000 allocation," LaTondresse said. "We bought a bunch of gift cards, encouraged a bunch of community organizations to apply for these grants, and within a couple of weeks the demand was so high we went through all of those. So just yesterday, the Hennepin County board approved an additional quarter million dollars to make sure that we can reach more residents, increase trust and reduce disparity."
Of the funds Hennepin County received from President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act, $350,000 has gone into this effort. Part of it paid for the gift cards. However, a part of it also went into incentivizing community organizations like the food shelf we met in. ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka was one of several sites that organized immunization events. In order to do that, they applied for $3,000 of grant money.
That community connection is what LaTondresse said was the most important part about this plan. This is because he said community places like the ICA Food Shelf have familiar faces.
"If these challenging times have proven anything, it is that we need good government than we ever needed before, but government can't do it alone," LaTondresse said. "And that's why partnerships with trusted community organizations, small businesses, congregations have been front and center in our vaccination efforts. The trust that a local organization like ICA food shelf has with residents can never be replaced or replicated by a government agency."
And if Hennepin County was a student in Professor April Eichmeier's strategic communications class at the University of St. Thomas, it would get an A+.
"Trust is really the key currency here, it's hard to understand the raw data about vaccines," Professor Eichmeier said. "We all have some vulnerability and we give our vulnerability to the people that we trust. That's not always scientists. [If] I have a question about something, talking to someone who has been through this is probably a way that I can self educate, and help calm my fears."
"I think the priority needs to be on engaging trust in the community members," Eichmeier continued. "Anything coming from the CDC for people who've already made up their mind, that's not going to resonate. The key is inter-personal interaction at this point."
"It's groups like community vaccination events that we've done in Hennepin county that really meet residents where they're at, in their fears, in their doubts, in their understand their needs," LaTondresse said. "We just want to be a facilitator to help empower them to serve their residents."
Wanna know something rad?
You don't have to be a Hennepin County resident to receive those $100.
As long as you show up to a vaccination clinic run by the county, or in partnership with the county, you can walk out of there $50 richer after the first shot, and $50 more, after your second. If you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it will just be $50 for that one shot.
The incentive runs out on Aug. 15.