Will Gift Cards And Community College Scholarships Convince Colorado’s Unvaccinated To Get The COVID Shot?

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Happy Haynes, the current Denver Parks and Recreation executive director, Denver Board of Education president and former City Council member, was among those getting a COVID-19 vaccination at Shorter AME Church in Denver, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021.

Starting Thursday, all Coloradans who get vaccinated against COVID-19 at a state-operated vaccine site are eligible for a $100 Walmart gift card while supplies last. 

“This will help people get protected first and foremost,” said Gov. Jared Polis, as he announced the new incentive. “That's why we're doing it, but we know it means a lot to a single mom with three kids, 12 to 17 to go and get vaccinated with the family and get $400 worth of Walmart gift certificates. That can make a big difference.”

Those sites, for Thursday, include Nederland, Aurora, Alamosa, Hooper, Loveland, Canon City, Pueblo, Delta, and Denver. There are 11,000 gift cards available at the state sites, with 10 percent of the cost donated by Walmart and the rest from interest earned on coronavirus relief funds provided to the state by the federal government.

To find a state vaccine site, and more details, go to cocomebackcash.com.  

Dwindling interest in vaccinations had Polis offering both the gift cards and a second incentive on Wednesday. The state's community college system is launching a new scholarship drawing with Amazon, to encourage more students to get vaccinated. There will be $75,000 in scholarships for 67 students. 

The state of vaccination in Colorado

So far, more than 71 percent of adults in Colorado have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. But that leaves almost 2.5 million people who have not received even a single dose.

Those people are making up a large portion of the growing COVID-19 caseload, while also providing hosts for the coronavirus that allow it to keep mutating toward a day when scientists warn current vaccines might no longer be effective at stopping it.

Between April 1 and June 30, 94.5 percent of the 4,881 people in Colorado who were admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 were unvaccinated or had not yet had 14 days pass since they became fully vaccinated, the point at which people have full protection.

The unvaccinated also made up 93.4 percent of the 513 deaths caused by COVID-19 in that period, according to data released by the state health department.

Fewer than 3 percent of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state since Jan. 1 were vaccinated.

That impact is being felt disproportionately across Colorado

Garfield County’s public health department announced Tuesday that 100 percent of the people hospitalized there with COVID-19 since June 1 were unvaccinated.

Just 55 percent of Garfield County’s eligible population of those 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and only 62.1 percent have had even one dose. That places the county 23rd in the state for vaccination rate. 

Crowley County, east of Pueblo, has the lowest vaccination rate in the state at 19.5 percent, while San Juan, near Durango, is highest at 94.5 percent.

The large unvaccinated population is driving the number of cases back up in the state. There were 3,180 cases reported in the week of July 11, an increase of 28 percent over the week before, and the largest weekly total since May. Deaths have grown too, with 40 Coloradans dying the week of July 4, the largest number since the first full week of June. 

Getting the word out about vaccines

Doctors and public health experts say the vaccine is the best way to protect against contracting COVID and avoiding hospitalization or death from the virus. That includes the highly transmissible Delta variant, that’s now the dominant strain in Colorado and the U.S.

“The state is working around the clock to educate Coloradans about the vaccine and answer any and all questions and concerns people may have about getting vaccinated,” said Tara Trujillo, Colorado's COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign Manager who joined the governor at the press update. “From making calls and sending text messages, airing television, radio, digital, and print ads, to actively combating misinformation about the vaccine, Colorado is focused on providing as much information as possible to encourage more people to get vaccinated.”

To date the effort has made more than 2.3 million outbound calls, resulting in conversations about the vaccine with over 39,000 Coloradans, Trujillo said. More than 918,000 text messages in both English and Spanish have been sent to provide more information about the vaccine.

The campaign has helped establish hundreds of vaccine clinics throughout the state, including through mobile buses, via employers, and at local community centers. 

Polis said the state is taking an all-of-the-above approach.

“We know how to end the pandemic. It's in our power to do so, and we need to do so, and we are leaving no stone unturned in doing that. It's really a full-court press,” he said.