White House encourages COVID-19 vaccine incentives

COVID vaccine card, vial, syringe
COVID vaccine card, vial, syringe

The Focal Project / Flickr cc

Editor's Note: This story was updated on May 26 to add context for Moderna's claim of 100% vaccine efficacy in children 12 to 17.

Today Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response, said during a White House press briefing on the pandemic that he was inspired by Ohio's "Vax-A-Million" lottery, which will award $1 million to a person each week for 5 weeks, with winners drawn at random with proof of vaccination.

Slavitt said since the program was announced by Gov. Mike DeWine, the state has seen a 55% increase in 20- to 49-year-olds getting vaccinated, and in several counties rates of vaccination have doubled.

"In other words, this program is working," Slavitt said. Maryland, New York, and Oregon have announced similar programs, and Slavitt said the Biden administration, via the American Rescue Plan, is encouraging states to get creative in offering cash incentives, lottery winnings, or other prizes as a way to draw attention to the vaccine.

Only nine states, Slavitt said, have reached Biden's goal of having 70% of all eligible adults vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4th. But now 50% of Americans 18 years and older are fully vaccinated against the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker shows 359,004,955 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered in the US, and 287,788,872 doses have been administered, with 131,078,608 Americans fully vaccinated.

Looking to Memorial Day with hope

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said she expected friends and families to safely gather this upcoming Memorial Day weekend if they are fully vaccinated, and unlike last year, she did not expect holiday parties would lead to a surge in infections.

Walensky said the CDC continues to see declining 7-day averages for new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, with daily case counts dropping 25% to 22,800 per day, and daily deaths now hovering around 500.

For the past 7 days, the daily case counts have all been below 30,000. Yesterday the United States reported 25,925 new COVID-19 cases, and 640 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

A new Axios-Ipsos poll shows that Americans are taking off their masks and re-engaging publicly at levels not seen since the start of the pandemic, a sign that the upcoming summer may seem more normal than previously anticipated.

Only 45% of poll respondents said they're wearing masks at all times when they leave their homes. But only around 20% said the CDC has been clear in its updated guidance, while only 38% said they trust people outside their close circle to be honest about their vaccination status.

Moderna says vaccine highly effective in teens

Moderna, makers of one of the two mRNA vaccines authorized for use in the United States, said its vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in a trial of 3,700 12- to 17-year-olds. But the study's primary end point was a comparison of adolescents' immune response versus that in adults, so it was not designed to measure efficacy. No COVID-19 cases were identified among vaccine recipients, compared with 4 in the placebo group.

"We are encouraged that mRNA-1273 was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in adolescents. It is particularly exciting to see that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine can prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection," said Stephane Bancel, MBA, Moderna CEO, in a press release. "We will submit these results to the U.S. FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and regulators globally in early June and request authorization. We remain committed to doing our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic."

In related news, the CDC today published a report detailing breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated adults from Jan 1 through Apr 30, by which time roughly 101 million adults had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Thus far, a total of 10,262 breakthrough cases have been reported to the CDC in fully vaccinated adults.

According to the CDC, 2,725 (27%) vaccine breakthrough infections were asymptomatic, 995 (10%) patients were known to be hospitalized, and 160 (2%) patients died. Among the 995 hospitalized patients, 289 (29%) were asymptomatic or hospitalized for a reason unrelated to COVID-19, the authors said.

As of May 1, only breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death are being tracked by the CDC.

Other US developments

  • A survey of 15 Fortune 500 companies by Kaiser Health News found that most are encouraging their workers to get vaccinated, with some offering incentives, but none are inclined to mandate shots.

  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey yesterday signed into law a bill that bans government institutions, schools, and private businesses from refusing goods, services, or admission to people who haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19, the New York Times reported yesterday.

  • Thousands of Americans seeking federal assistance for coronavirus victims can't collect because their family members' death certificates don't list COVID-19, according to Politico. More than 200,000 people have sought federal reimbursement for COVID-related funeral expenses.

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