Vaccine Incentives: NJ Adds Free State Park Passes, NY Tries Full College


What to Know

  • New York state is in the midst of a five-day pilot program where people who get dosed at select sites get a lottery scratch-off ticket; prizes could be worth up to $5 million, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said
  • The governor introduced a new program Wednesday targeting 12- to 17-year-olds; those who get vaccinated in the next six weeks have a shot to win a four-year scholarship to any New York university
  • NJ has also rolled out a bevy of incentives; it will lift its indoor mask rule for the immunized on Friday and Gov. Phil Murphy will give employers options for assessing worker vaccination status on June 4

Starting Thursday, getting the COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey will get residents an entire summer at one of the state’s most popular beaches — free of charge.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced a series of incentives aimed at convincing more people to get vaccinated against the virus last week. The most lucrative is the free season pass to any state park for anyone who has received at least one shot by July 4. Unlike most previous incentives in the state, and in New York, those who have already gotten their shots are eligible for the free park pass as well as those who haven’t.

If you fall into either of those categories, go to www.nj.gov/vaxandvisit to apply for the free season parks pass and you’ll receive it by email.

“A season pass would cost you $50,” Murphy said at Island Beach State Park on the Ocean County coastline, as a school of dolphins glided by in the distance. “But the state vax pass is free for doing the right thing and helping us end this pandemic.”

The governor said more than 4.1 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated as of Thursday — nearly 47% of the state’s population. Murphy is nearly 90% to his previously stated goal of fully vaccinating 4.7 million New Jersey adults by June 30.

“Clearly we have this virus on the run,” Murphy recently said. “But while we have this virus on the run, the fight is not yet over.”


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Murphy was initially more cautious than New York and Connecticut governors in lifting restrictions because of ongoing higher-than-the-national-average COVID rates and an insufficient number of fully vaccinated residents, the governor said. But in less than 24 hours, New Jersey will take its next major step in recovery as its tri-state neighbors did.

The Garden State will lift its more than year-long indoor mask mandate for the fully vaccinated in accordance with CDC guidelines as numbers continue to improve. A week later, private employers will be able to allow vaccinated workers to ditch mask and social distancing requirements if they can verify employee immunization status.

Across the Hudson, New York has also offered a bevy of vaccine incentives to get dose rates up but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated he doesn’t expect the full vaccination rate to climb much above 62% (it’s at about 56% now) for those age 18 and older given hesitancy and other concerns. Instead, he’s focused on an age group that he thinks can be moved and currently has the lowest vaccination rate in the state: those aged 12-17.

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced a six-week incentive program offering kids age 12-17 a chance to win free four-year scholarships to any SUNY or CUNY college in the state. The pool opens up Thursday and kids of eligible age who have already gotten their first doses can still add their names. It’s the first incentive at the statewide level Cuomo has launched that rewards people who have already gotten their shots. For those who haven’t, it’s a major carrot not just for potential students but their parents.

In total, 50 full tuition, room and board scholarships will be doled out by random drawing for 12- to 17-year-old New Yorkers who have gotten at least one dose by July 7. Random drawings for 10 full scholarships will be conducted each Wednesday for five weeks. Those who are interested can sign up here to be notified when each drawing begins. Federal COVID-19 relief and outreach funds will cover program costs.

It’s the latest effort to devise more creative tactics to target those less inclined, less motivated or otherwise simply less likely to get vaccinated. Cuomo is also in the midst of a five-day pilot program that gives lottery scratch-offs typically sold for $20 to people who get vaccinated at state-run sites through Friday. Participants have a one in nine chance to win and prizes range from $20 to up to $5 million. It’s a no-lose situation.

That program looks to drum up similar success to a five-week $1 million vaccine lottery that first launched in Ohio and was rapidly adopted in some form by a number of states. Ohio saw first doses soar 73% in the first week the lottery opened, data shows.

The feds opened the door to more cash-based vaccine incentives earlier this week. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department tweaked its guidance to say local governments could use billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds for such lotteries or cash payments as long as they are “reasonably expected” to increase dose rates and the costs are “reasonably proportional” to the anticipated public health benefit.

Starting Thursday, getting the COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey will get residents an entire summer at one of the state’s most popular beaches — free of charge. NBC New York’s Gaby Acevedo reports.

As Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser on the national COVID-19 response, said at the time, “We encourage states to use their creativity to draw attention to vaccines and get their states and the country back to normal as quickly as possible.”

“People do care about getting vaccinated, but it turns out they have other things they care about, too,” Slavitt added. “Some of those things might encourage people to think about what might otherwise be a lower priority.”

More than 50% of Americans age 18 and older are vaccinated to date, though that number drops a bit, to 47%, when the age bracket is expanded to those age 12 and up, according to the latest CDC data. Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population age 65 and older are fully vaccinated, but that number has plateaued in recent weeks.



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