NC’s $25 cash card program expands to 38 counties as state hopes to boost vaccination rates

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina health officials are expanding the number of locations where you can get a $25 cash card for getting the COVID-19 vaccine or taking someone to get vaccinated.

The $25 is meant to offset the time and transportation costs of getting your shot. After a trial period in just a few counties, the program is expanding and will be available right here in Wake County.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has posted the locations online where you can find the cash card. More locations across the state will be added over the next few days.

The state says the program gained a lot of traction in its four pilot counties where around 1,700 summer cards were distributed to vaccine recipients and more than 700 cards to people who drove someone to the vaccination site.

With this expansion, the card will now be offered in 38 counties and it’s available to anyone 18 and older who gets the shot or drives someone to get vaccinated.

State health experts say vaccine providers saw higher demand for the shot when the state began offering this incentive so Gov. Roy Cooper says he’s hoping for the same reaction in these new counties.

A boost in numbers is needed as lagging vaccination rates are helping to keep North Carolina and the United States as a whole from reaching President Joe Biden’s Fourth of July goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated.

And while the White House COVID-19 response team and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appear to point the finger at the youngest adults, one prominent local expert says there’s more to it than just the 18-to-24 age group.

“There are many different issues with vaccine hesitancy,” said Dr. David Weber, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “And younger individuals are just one of them.”

That North Carolina will miss Biden’s target isn’t a surprise. Previous CBS17.com data analyses found the state — which ranks 38th nationally in terms of its share of partially vaccinated adults — more likely wouldn’t reach that level of vaccine uptake until Thanksgiving.

Weber said the July 4 goal was “realistic.”

“You want a goal that pushes you a little bit but is realistic and this was a realistic goal,” Weber said. “It was a good idea to set it. And now we have to work harder and look at the various ways, public health, individual health care providers, the media can help to achieve that goal, and then, ultimately, an even higher goal.”

A big part of the struggle, federal officials said, has been the struggle to get through to young adults.

The White House is revising some of its targets, saying 70 percent of adults who are 30 or older have had at least one shot and saying by July 4 that 70 percent of those 27 and older will be partially vaccinated.

The implication is clear — those getting shots need to skew younger.

CDC study this week finds those between 18 and 24 years old were among those with the lowest reported vaccination coverage as well as the lowest intent to get vaccinated. And barely over a third of those between 18 and 39 have gotten a shot.

Locally, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services groups those ages differently. But the trend is exactly the same, with only 35 percent of people between 18 and 24 getting at least one dose.

But one question persists: Are we running out of ways to persuade the youngest adults to get those shots?

The state is hoping incentives like cash cards and lottery drawings for $1 million or college tuition will get vaccination rates up.

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