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Hawaii to offer cash prizes, extend COVID vaccination campaign into August

  • VIDEO BY HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER VIA ZOOM

    Hawaii's COVID-19 vaccination campaign will be extended into August with new incentives and cash prizes.

As Hawaii’s pace of vaccination against the coronavirus continues to fall, the state is extending its incentive campaign to persuade more Hawaii residents to get vaccinated, this time adding cash to the list of prizes that have included trips to Las Vegas, HawaiianMiles and Zippy’s meals for a year.

The current lottery is set to close tonight at midnight, with the state awarding 83 more prizes next month. The sequel to the vaccination campaign will run through Aug. 20. American Savings Bank has promised $5,000 prizes for three winners, and more prizes, including additional cash rewards, are expected to be announced next month.

“People should be getting vaccinated because it’s the right thing to do to protect yourself and others around you,” said Brooks Baehr, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, during a news conference. “But if a little cash helps, we’re going to do it.”

More than 240,000 residents have signed up for the lottery and do not need to register again to remain in the running for the next rollout of prizes. To be eligible, residents must have received at least one shot of the available vaccines.

Health officials say the #HIGotVaccinated campaign, which was announced at the beginning of the month, has helped stem the decline in the state’s vaccination rate, even though it hasn’t sent the numbers soaring.

The pace of vaccinations was declining by about 20% a week in the weeks leading up to the campaign, according to Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. Based on this downward trend, he said the campaign and business promotions contributed to a 30% increase in vaccinations over what was predicted.

Still, the overall pace of vaccinations is falling. During the week of May 2, 96,018 doses were administered, according to data from the Health Department. That figure fell to 37,710 doses the week before the launch of the campaign. This past week just 23,111 doses were administered. The data shows that there was a slight increase the week after the campaign was launched, before the rate continued its downward trend.

“The campaign has been successful, but we still are not where we want to be,” said Raethel.

The lottery and discounts at businesses for people who are vaccinated are just one facet of the state’s vaccination campaign. Health officials have also made sure free vaccines are available at hundreds of sites, including pharmacies, clinics and pop-ups at locations such as churches, schools and community centers. Many of the locations offer same-day or walk-in appointments. Health officials have also focused on outreach in communities with low vaccination numbers and are targeting residents who may be homebound, have language barriers or want more information about the vaccine before making a decision.

Still, convincing the remainder of the state’s population to get vaccinated has been a challenge that’s slowing down the state’s efforts to fully reopen. Gov. David Ige has said the state will lift all COVID safety restrictions once 70% of Hawaii residents are fully vaccinated. At the current rate, that could take another nine to 10 weeks, said Raethel.

As of Tuesday, 57.8% of Hawaii residents had been fully vaccinated, and 62.4% had received at least one shot, according to state data.

Getting to 70% is particularly challenging because children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, are included in the overall count. That means about 82% of all eligible residents need to be fully vaccinated before businesses can get back to normal and indoor mask requirements are dropped, among other safety requirements.

The target has inspired more local businesses to participate in the vaccination campaign since its launch, adding more prizes to the lottery. Other rewards that are currently being offered include two nights in an oceanfront room at the Kahala Hotel and Resort, along with free massages, a $1,000 gift certificate at Pearl City Shopping Center and round-trip tickets on Southwest Airlines anywhere the airline flies.

The new prizes that will be part of the extended lottery will be listed at HIGotVaccinated.com on July 12, and grand prize winners will be announced Aug. 20.

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