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Free Drinks. Free Doughnuts. Free Transportation. Free Tickets. For a COVID Vaccine?

May 11, 2021

It’s not exactly like buying a car, but what will it take for the under-30 crowd to get a COVID-19 vaccination today?

To the reluctant, hesitant or apathetic, how does a free drink sound? A free doughnut? Four free Yard Goats tickets? Even a free ride to the vaccine clinic nearest you?

That’s just in Connecticut. In West Virginia, anyone 16-35 years old gets a $100 savings bonds. In New Jersey, a “Shot and a Beer” program with participating breweries offers a free drink to anyone vaccinated in May. In Maryland, state employees get $100. In New York, where fans can’t get into a Major League Baseball game without the state’s Excelsior Pass proving they’ve been vaccinated, the Yankees and Mets are expected to offer free tickets to fans vaccinated at their respective stadiums before games. And, nationwide, Krispy Kreme promises a free doughnut to anyone who’s been vaccinated.

“We still have a long way to go,” said Gov. Ned Lamont. “We’ve got to work hard with the younger people, the so-called invincibles.”

Starting May 19, when Connecticut’s COVID-19 restrictions other than wearing masks indoors end, anyone who’s vaccinated (and at least 21 years old) can get a free drink with any food purchase at participating restaurants by showing proof of vaccination. (The incentive campaign ends May 31.)

The unvaccinated apparently welcome incentives, based on a survey of more than 75,000 people in the past 10 months by the UCLA COVID-19 Health and Politics Project. More than one-third of the unvaccinated said a $100 payment could push them closer to getting a shot or two. And 31 percent said a $50 payment could convince them to get a vaccination. Likewise, people were also more likely to get vaccinated if it meant they wouldn’t have to wear a mask or social distance in public.

Already, Hartford HealthCare offers no-appointment-necessary inoculation at its vaccine clinics. Just walk in. Uber is offering 30,000 free rides to a vaccine site for anyone with limited transportation access. Call the state’s Vaccine Appointment Assist Line at 877.918.2224. (You must enter a promotional code into the Uber app.)

If you’re physically or medically unable to leave your home, fill out this state Department of Public Health form and someone from your town will contact you.

“You don’t need a prescription,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin at a recent press conference announcing vaccinations provided by Hartford HealthCare before the first six Yard Goats home games in May. “You don’t need to pay. You don’t need an appointment. And if you need a ride, we’ll give it to you.”

In the coming months, you’ll likely see more vaccinations offered at houses of worship, community organizations and local businesses. And watch for the Hartford HealthCare mobile vaccine unit, which has administered thousands of vaccines this year across the state. And with the Food and Drug Administration expanding use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to ages 12 through 15, expect more vaccines available in schools — like the recent vaccine clinic at Fitch High School in Groton, where 70 eligible students registered through their school’s health clinic.

“We have worked tirelessly to understand what barriers exist and develop strategies to overcome those barriers,” said Dr. William Horgan, Regional Medical Director of Quality & Safety for Hartford HealthCare’s East Region, which includes Backus (Norwich) and Windham hospitals. “One of those barriers is transportation.”

But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that no barrier will prevent anyone in Connecticut who wants a COVID-19 vaccination this summer from getting one.