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Editorial: Convenience is key now, not new COVID-19 vaccines incentives

If they won’t do it for a shot at $1 million, a full scholarship to college, small cash cards, free food and drinks or other prizes, then unvaccinated people most certainly are not going to get vaccinated if they’re given $100 or become eligible for new incentives.

President Joe Biden offered the $100 suggestion Thursday as an idea for states, territories and local governments struggling to get people vaccinated. The incentives could be paid for through economic rescue funds, national news outlets reported.

Perhaps in a Washington-centric bubble, these ideas make sense, but there just aren’t realistic scenarios where new incentives work in communities like Rowan County. With just 36.2% vaccinated with one dose, Rowan has been stuck in the 30s for months even after the creation of incentive programs. A majority of people here aren’t vaccinated, and it’s not going to change unless getting the shot is so convenient that people don’t have to change their daily routines or, unfortunately, tragedy strikes in a way that permanently alters someone’s life.

The new, sharp spike in cases amid low vaccination rates may be proof that large swaths of people aren’t inclined to make decisions based on hypothetical scenarios — in this case, hospitalization or death from COVID-19. The pandemic is far from hypothetical for the hundreds in Rowan who have lost family members or friends, but COVID-19 is still just a news story for others.

Frequent editorial readers might note that Thursday’s edition included a Darts and Laurels lamenting that deaths are likely to come from the current spike because of low vaccination rates. Why not do everything possible to continue to convince people? There must be a point at which elected officials, government bureaucrats and those suggesting using more taxpayer dollars for new incentives realize unvaccinated people have made a decision for which dangled carrots don’t help. Keep some incentives in place if you like, but devoting new financial resources and time to creating incentives consumes COVID-19 relief funding that can be used for other worthwhile projects and takes people away from other pandemic-related work. It also insults those who willingly rolled up their sleeves months ago for themselves and their communities.

That it’s time to stop creating new incentives doesn’t mean minimizing vaccination efforts entirely. Convenience is key. There are still people who haven’t been vaccinated because they haven’t been asked, made the time or view existing options as too cumbersome. Rowan County Health Director Alyssa Harris said last week more than 80 people got their shot during a recent event held at East Rowan High School — proof of still-existing demand. Even vaccinating several dozen people is worthwhile when the county has been stuck in the same range for months.

Can further progress be made by setting up vaccination sites at the beginning of school car rider drop-off lines, during large community events, in front of local churches on Sunday and in workplaces that haven’t yet allowed vaccination clinics to set up in a break room? It’s worth trying.

Because Delta is a complete new variant of COVID-19, people shouldn’t assume they know how it will spread or affect people. It’s reasonable to assume, however, the current spike in COVID-19 could reach a point where Gov. Roy Cooper must make tough calls about mandatory masks, business closures and gathering restrictions to prevent death and hospitalization. He hasn’t made them yet, and the country generally seems more willing to tolerate high-spiking case totals now than in 2020. That means there’s still time to flatten the curve.

People can do their part by being vaccinated before they or a loved one are hospitalized with a case of the virus. Employers, health care workers and government officials can help by making it as easy as possible to get the shot, which is still the best tool to fight the pandemic.

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