It turns out that, if you want people to do something they don’t want to do, it’s a good idea to try to persuade them with money. 

That’s not exactly a brand new idea, but that was the very unsurprising finding of new research recently conducted in North Carolina that evaluated the effectiveness of a state vaccine enticement program that gave out cold hard cash cards for some who got the shots.

A press release this week from state health officials reads, “The $25 Summer Card pilot program operated by North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) was successful in encouraging COVID-19 vaccination, according to a published research letter by authors from NCDHHS, the Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities at the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute at North Carolina Central University, and the Departments of Biostatistics and of Health Behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”

A research letter published in a prominent medical journal this week addresses the effectiveness of the state’s “$25 Summer Card Program,” which a lot of people took advantage of.

According to state health officials, the research provides some of the first solid data on programs that use guaranteed financial incentives for COVID-19 vaccination enticement.  

During a one-week review period, COVID-19 vaccinations decreased by just 26 percent in clinics that were offering the $25 cards. During that same period, they declined by 51 percent in clinics that weren’t making the same offer.  However, it does seem possible that a portion of that 51 percent decline could have been from people who wanted to be vaccinated not going where they wouldn’t get paid and instead going where they would get paid.

The research was conducted in four North Carolina counties where a pilot program was initiated. The state’s program offered a $25 cash card to adults who either received their first dose of one of the three vaccines – or who drove someone to a qualified site to get a vaccination.

 The pilot program distributed 2,890 cards to vaccine recipients and 1,374 to drivers.

The $25 Summer Card program later shifted to a program providing $100 cards for some.  The $100 Summer Card program wasn’t included in the research, however, it’s probably safe to say that a $100 reward is even more effective in convincing people to get a vaccine where they get paid rather than where they don’t get paid.

“Within a week, this well-designed incentive program halved the drop in COVID-19 vaccination that North Carolina was experiencing,” said Dr. Noel Brewer, with the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “Using guaranteed cash incentives is a best practice, recommended by the CDC. It builds on 70 years of psychological research showing that rewards are most effective when delivered immediately after the behavior.”