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Vaccine Freebies Abound for Those Who Get the Shot

Incentives include a chance at $1 million in Ohio, free food and drink, tickets to events

Some businesses are offering free beer with proof of COVID vaccination.
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These days you can get free doughnuts, a beer on the house, tickets to an amusement park, a no-cost hunting license or cold, hard cash if you get a COVID-19 vaccination.

President Biden is doubling down on his call to get 70 percent of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4. To get there, the White House is partnering with businesses and organizations to incentivize people to get the shots, with additional freebies that include childcare, gift cards and a chance at free flights.

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States are doing their part, too: One of the most debated — and successful — incentives is Ohio’s Vax-a-Million campaign, which allows vaccinated adults to enter a drawing for one of five $1 million awards, or for residents between 12 and 17 years old, one of five four-year scholarships to an Ohio state school, including room and board, tuition and books. An Associated Press analysis determined that vaccinations in the state were up 33 percent after the vaccine lottery was announced.

Carl Hunnel, 60, the city editor for the Richland Source news organization based in Mansfield, Ohio, already has been vaccinated but says he’ll be signing up for the lottery. “I’ve already got the shot, so if they say go to this website and fill this out ... I’d be dumb not to,” he says.

Tangible encouragements are seen as just the nudge some reluctant vaccine takers need.

Emily Largent, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, says using diverse incentives — ranging from free food to cash and gift cards — will encourage people with different motivations to get vaccinated. The offers may be particularly helpful for younger people or those without preexisting conditions who are less concerned about the public health benefits of vaccinations.

"The variety is probably good, just like how everybody wants something different at a smorgasbord,” Largent says. “We give people more options and hopefully encourage more people to come along.”

Some won't be swayed by freebies, particularly those who are wary of vaccines, she says: “There are a lot of reasons why people aren't getting vaccinated, and incentives will not help with all of those reasons."

For those who want to go all in and get the most out of their vaccinations, here's some of what's being offered:

Employer incentives

Many companies are paying their employees in some form or fashion, from paid time off to gift cards or cash.

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Grocery chain Aldi is providing up to four hours of paid time off for hourly workers who get vaccinated. Discount chain Dollar General is offering a stipend for vaccinated workers worth four work hours. Publix is handing out $125 gift cards to employees who show proof of their completed vaccination. Apple and AT&T are offering paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated.

Kroger is entering employees who get the shot anywhere into a weekly sweepstakes drawing throughout June. Customers who receive COVID-19 vaccinations at Kroger can also enter. Five winners will receive $1 million, and 50 winners will get free groceries for a year.

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And then there’s cash. A few months ago, the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort in D’Iberville, Mississippi, began giving hourly employees — around 800 of them — $300 in cash each to get fully vaccinated. If employees get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they’ll get the full amount all at once. If they get one of the two-dose shots from Pfizer or Moderna, they’ll get $150 for each dose, says Vicki Haskins, the casino’s director of promotions, events and entertainment.

“A lot of our associates took advantage of it,” she says.

The casino is making it even easier on employees by running a vaccination clinic on the property, open to employees and their immediate families.

In some areas, Krispy Kreme offered free donuts to people who are vaccinated for COVID.
Noam Galai / Getty Images

Tasty snacks and drinks

Starting in late March, Krispy Kreme was one of the first businesses to offer a lip-smacking incentive to get people vaccinated, giving customers free glazed doughnuts every day for the rest of the year. 

For more of a meal, if you get your shot at a mobile vaccination site in New York City you can now get a voucher for a Shake Shack burger, and starting June 12, you can get a free order of crinkle fries if you show your vaccine card.

If hot dogs are more your style, Nathan's Famous will give you a free dog at its Coney Island, New York, location if you stop by the same day you get your vaccination — with proof, of course.

Entertainment

It’s been a long time since people have been able to enjoy entertainment that’s not on a screen. Fully vaccinated Chicagoans only can get access to the city’s summer concert series, which kicked off May 22 in Hyde Park. Also in Illinois, Six Flags Great America announced it will donate 50,000 tickets to two of its amusements parks for those who are newly vaccinated in the state.

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And if you’re not vaccinated yet, plan to get your shot at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field before heading into a Yankees or a Mets baseball game. The state of New York is partnering with the two teams to provide fans with a ticket voucher to a 2021 or 2022 regular home game after they receive their vaccines throughout the rest of June.

Major League Baseball is also offering free tickets to fans who get vaccinated in June.

Maine offered free fishing licenses for proof of COVID vaccination.
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A free pass outside

Do you love the outdoors and live in Maine? Then you might want to get vaccinated. Starting this month, Mainers with proof of vaccination can choose from a free fishing or hunting license, a wildlife park or state park pass, a $20 L.L. Bean gift card, or an admission ticket to see the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team or the Oxford Plains Speedway races.

New York City offered free subway rides to people who got the COVID vaccination.
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Free services

If you’re a parent and you need someone to watch the kids while you get vaccinated, or afterward if you need a day or so to recover from side effects, four large childcare providers have you covered. Until July 4, KinderCare and Learning Care Group locations are offering free drop-in appointments to parents or caregivers who need support around vaccinations. More than 500 YMCA locations will provide similar drop-in care, and Bright Horizons will offer that service for more than 10 million workers employed at participating organizations.

If you need transportation to get your shot, the White House has partnered with ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to provide free rides to vaccination sites and back. The partnership will continue until July 4.

New York City is also offering free rides — on the subway or by commuter rail. Those who get vaccinated at a pop-up stop inside a subway or rail station can get a free seven-day unlimited metro card or two one-way commuter rail tickets.

Office Depot is doing lamination of vaccine cards for free, but there’s still debate over whether that is recommended.

Dating apps such as Match, Hinge and Bumble are offering premium content access to users who showcase their vaccination status on the app.

State incentives

It's hard to beat Ohio's chance at a million bucks, but other states are getting in on the game, too. For the already vaccinated and the soon-to-be vaccinated, West Virginia will give a $100 savings bond to every resident between 16 and 35 years old.

California’s governor launched Vax for the Win, offering a series of cash prizes through the summer, including $50,000 to 30 winners and $1.5 million to 10 lucky winners.

Not from California, Ohio or West Virginia? Visit the National Governors Association’s website for a state-by-state list of more cash and prize incentives.

People line up to receive a free marijuana cigarette after showing proof of a COVID vaccination.
People line up to receive a free marijuana cigarette after showing proof of a COVID-19 vaccination at Union Square on April 20, 2021 in New York City.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Beer and weed

Anheuser-Busch promises one free beer to everyone who is 21 or older on July 4 if the U.S. reaches 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated. Similarly, the governor of Illinois signed a bill on June 2 to allow businesses that sell alcohol to offer customers a free drink with proof of vaccination.

In several cities, including Washington, D.C., marijuana legalization advocacy groups have been doling out free joints or bags of marijuana to those who show proof of vaccination, dubbing the effort #jointsforjabs. The website Pot in Illinois is tracking a list of places to get these special freebies.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 14. It's been updated to reflect new information.

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