As coronavirus-ravaged countries such as India scramble to secure more Covid-19 vaccines, the US is facing an altogether different challenge: it is rapidly running out of people willing to get vaccinated.
In the early days of the US rollout, competition for vaccine slots was so intense that securing an appointment was not easy. Many Americans flew interstate to get vaccinated while others waited at pharmacies at closing time in the hope of scoring a spare dose.
Now the biggest problem for the rollout is not a lack of supply but demand.
The US administered 1.8 million doses on Wednesday, significantly down on the peak of 4.6 million on April 10.
A poll released this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 13% of Americans say they will definitely not get vaccinated, 6% say they will do so only if forced, and another 15% are still taking a “wait and see” approach.
In search of the elusive “herd immunity”, state governments, businesses and non-profits have begun turning to increasingly creative measures to lure vaccine-hesitant Americans into accepting a shot.
Louisiana’s vaccine take-up rate is so low that bars in New Orleans have turned into vaccination sites offering free whisky or tequila shots to people who show up to get their vaccine shot. The state governor has actually asked the federal government to reduce its vaccine allotment in order to stop doses going to waste.
New Jersey this week began a “shot and a beer” scheme. Anyone who gets their first vaccine dose in May can take their vaccination card to participating breweries for free booze.
The big focus of the next stage of the drive is younger Americans who aren’t necessarily anti-vax but just haven’t yet got around to it.
In a bid to encourage younger people, West Virginia is offering 16 to 35-year-olds a US$100 savings bond if they roll up their sleeve, and Maryland is offering US$100 cash to state employees who do so.
In a spirit of neighborliness, Detroit is handing out US$50 prepaid debit cards to anyone who drives a fellow resident to a vaccination site.
“I don’t know any place else in the country that’s doing this,” the Detroit mayor said. “We’re in uncharted territory here.”
New York City has turned the American Museum of Natural History into a mass vaccination centre. After getting their shots beneath a full-size fiberglass blue whale, people receive a voucher for a complimentary museum visit for four.
Polls show that evangelical Christians are among the most resistant. Rather than freebies, attempts to boost vaccination rates among the born again focus on education campaigns that seek to turn religious leaders into vaccine champions, with limited success.
But for the unenlightened, Krispy Kreme is offering free doughnuts to anyone who presents a vaccination certificate, while Budweiser is offering a debit card that can be redeemed for free beer.
And in Michigan, a marijuana dispensary is running a “pot for shots” programme that offers free pre-rolled joints to vaccinated stoners.
While these inducements may work for some, many find it odd that receiving life-saving shots is being treated like a visit to the dentist rewarded with a lollipop.
Public spirited folk say it is jarring that while people are clamouring for vaccines in India and Brazil, such small inducements are necessary to convince Americans to get their shots, instead of them doing so in a spirit of mutual social responsibility.