Coronavirus

The problems with Governor Mills’ giveaways for vaccines

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On Tuesday, Maine Governor Janet Mills joined President Joe Biden and a small group of US governors for a virtual discussion on the vaccine rollout throughout the states. During the event, Mills unveiled her new “Your Shot to Get Outdoors” plan where the state will offer new incentives for people to get vaccinated.

Effective May 11 until May 31, any Maine adult age 18 or older who gets their first shot of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, will qualify for one of the following benefits:

·      A fishing license

·      A hunting license

·      A Maine State Park day pass

·      A Maine Wildlife Park pass

·      A $20 L.L.Bean gift card

·      A ticket to the Portland Sea Dogs

·      A ticket to Oxford Plains Speedway

According to the release, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will purchase up to 5,000 fishing licenses, 5,000 hunting licenses, 5,000 passes to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, 5,000 day passes to Maine State Parks, 10,000 L.L. Bean gift cards valued at $20 each, 5,000 Sea Dogs tickets and 5,000 tickets to Oxford Plains Speedway as part of the initiative. The total value of these incentives appears to be less than $1 million.

In other words, up to 40,000 Mainers who get vaccinated between May 11 and 31 are eligible for one of the rewards mentioned above. If you got vaccinated on Monday, May 10, you’re not eligible for a benefit. If you were vaccinated at any other point in time over the last few months, you’re not eligible for a benefit.

I should preface by saying I favor the route of incentives for vaccines over vaccine mandates. However, private entities should really be the ones offering the incentives. If a retailer wants to give out gift cards or a brewery wants to give out free beer to inoculated customers and staff, more power to them. But the state is now using federal tax dollars to purchase incentives from select, favored businesses to encourage vaccination among a narrow portion of the population.

It’s also worth noting that Mainers need not be vaccinated to enjoy the outdoors. Governor Mills acknowledged during the virtual event that the name of the program is “corny,” and for good reason. Despite the governor’s unscientific closures of outdoor spaces over the last year, including state parks, the great outdoors has always been among the safest places to be.

On Tuesday, the New York Times published a report that calls into question statements from the US CDC related to outdoor transmission of COVID-19. While the agency said “less than 10 percent” of cases are linked to outdoor spaces last month when updating its mask guidance, other scientists and experts around the country have pegged the figure closer to 1 percent, and even as little as 0.1 percent.

While every vaccination counts in the effort to reach herd immunity, it seems 40,000 Mainers is a small goal that only marginally moves the dial on the percent of adults who have received a vaccine in the state. I believe the state could have set a larger goal and, simply through the public virtue of partnering with the state on increasing vaccinations, received many of these products and services from private entities at no cost to the state.

Every federal taxpaying resident of Maine paid for these licenses, tickets and gift cards, but they’re only being made available to a sliver of the vaccinated population. That’s fundamentally unfair to taxpayers, as well as every Mainer who received a vaccine before May 11.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced on Wednesday a multi-million-dollar lottery scheme to encourage vaccinations. According to the Associated Press, the state will for five weeks offer a weekly $1 million prize and full-ride college scholarships to in-state public universities for Ohioans who’ve been inoculated against COVID-19.

Fortunately, Governor Mills’ plan doesn’t appear to be this wasteful with federal cash. However, I think most of us would rather have our pre-pandemic jobs, livelihoods and low inflation than yearlong emergencies that exist for states to obtain federal cash and eventually promote “free” vaccine giveaways.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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