Will You Get Vaccinated If This Man Gives You a $100 Walmart Card?

A portrait of Governor Jared Polis from June.
A portrait of Governor Jared Polis from June.
During a July 21 press conference about Colorado's battle against COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis announced a new incentive for residents who were not convinced to get vaccinated against the disease in exchange for a chance to win $1 million in a recently concluded series of drawings: a $100 Walmart gift card for each eligible person of any age willing to get jabbed.

"I know it means a lot to a single mom with three kids twelve to seventeen to go get $400," Polis said.

This wasn't the only new giveaway intended to boost inoculations. The event — the first COVID-focused Polis press conference in some time — also featured the unveiling of "Shot at a Scholarship," a program aimed at community college students in the state funded by a gift from Amazon cumulatively valued at $75,000 (an amount we'd estimate as being equivalent to one micro-drop of fuel — maybe — for the rocket that blasted Amazon founder Jeff Bezos into the lower level of space yesterday).

Before the incentive announcements, Polis offered some statistics related to COVID-19, noting that 627 new positive cases have just been reported — a significant increase over recent weeks, but one that he didn't see as alarming given the relatively minor symptoms many vaccinated people experience if they're infected, as well as improved treatment since the early days of the pandemic.

He also pointed out that 95.7 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state, and a similar percentage of deaths from the virus, involve unvaccinated people. He framed this information as an additional reason why Coloradans who haven't been vaccinated should become inoculated, even as he celebrated the state meeting President Joe Biden's goal of immunizing 70 percent of adults by the Fourth of July; that total is now just above 71 percent, with nearly 69 percent of residents twelve and up having gotten at least their first dose. The vaccination pace for kids between twelve and seventeen is lagging, however; Polis estimated that percentage is currently "in the forties."

At that point, Polis introduced COVID-19 vaccine campaign manager Tara Trujillo, who hyped what she characterized as the state's multi-pronged approach to building on the vaccination numbers. Trujillo revealed that officials have been consulting with "experts who track rumors and misinformation" to combat lies about the vaccine being spread on social media sites such as YouTube, Reddit and TikTok, and encouraged folks still confused about vaccine safety to reach out to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, stressing, "There's no such thing as a silly question."

Next up was Joe Garcia, former lieutenant governor and current Colorado Community College System chairman, who touted the scholarship deal, which will give $1,000 toward the tuition of 65 students, with another two getting $5,000. He hopes that will convince more of the 125,000-plus community college students in the state to schedule vaccinations; most attendees won't be required to be immunized unless they live in on-campus residence halls or compete in intercollegiate athletics. Local Amazon representative Brittany Morris Saunders also got some spotlight time.

The Q&A session with journalists that followed included inquiries about vaccine that could conceivably expire before it's used (Polis said that any leftovers will likely be returned to the federal government for distribution overseas), and recent examples of Fox News personalities offering pro-vaccination comments (he praised Geraldo Rivera). In response to another question, Polis stressed that the state's hospital capacity is nowhere near being overwhelmed despite the rise of the more transmissible and dangerous Delta variant, which continues to make up the majority of COVID-19 cases in Colorado. Along the way, he deflected questions about whether schools in higher-risk communities will follow new CDPHE guidelines about COVID-19 safety by noting that some communities have "a different social license and a different balance of local ability to implement advice from the state level."

One reporter wanted to know why Polis thinks a $100 Walmart gift card will succeed in persuading certain folks to be vaccinated if a shot at a million bucks didn't. In response, the governor defended those drawings, portraying them as a part of a larger strategy that earned loads of media exposure, and predicted that the gift cards will be effective at increasing vaccinations among people who aren't dead-set against the concept but simply haven't made time to get inoculated so far.

"They may be going to Walmart," he suggested, "see it and say, 'I was going to do it anyway. Why not do it now and get a hundred bucks?'"
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts