Free beer or sports tickets for a COVID vaccine? Walz says it's time

Gov. Tim Walz says Minnesota needs to start incentivizing people to get a COVID-19 vaccine as several other states have done.

Speaking Wednesday at the Mall of America mass vaccination site, Walz said he's been told Minnesota law prevents him from giving freebies to people who get a shot and has asked attorneys for a workaround.  

Numerous states are now dangling free sports tickets, beer or even a $1 million lottery in front of residents to boost their vaccination rates. Vaccine demand has dropped off across the country as states transition from heavy demand to convincing hesitant populations.

"If there's a chance to get something free, it might encourage you to do something," Walz told reporters. "So we are really looking at it."

Last week, Ohio announced a $1 million lottery for five weekly winners, which Walz called "a little gimmicky." Maine is offering free hunting or fishing licenses. Connecticut and New Jersey are giving away beer.  

West Virginia is offering a $100 savings bond to younger adults who get vaccinated, while Maryland is giving $100 to any state employee who gets a shot.

"I don't know necessarily if that's for somebody sitting there saying, 'I'm not gonna do it.' But I can envision three or four friends sitting around saying, 'Let's go get this because they're giving free pizza,'" Walz said. "I want to see us move a little quicker on that."

A Walz spokesman did not immediately point out which state law prevents Minnesota from doing giveaways.

Even without incentives, Minnesota has ranked in the top 15 nationally for the percentage of adults that have gotten a shot. As of Wednesday, 62 percent of adults had gotten at least one dose.

Some Minnesota businesses have stepped into the void. Bars have given free beer, and the St. Paul Saints gave away free tickets to people who got a shot at the ballpark last week.

Dr. Nathan Chomilo, the state's COVID-19 vaccine equity coordinator, said employers should offer workers an additional incentive: paid time off to get the shot, or if the employee has side effects.

"We're not going to be able to do this alone. The state government can only do so much. We need our private partners to help us here," Chomilo said.

At community vaccination sites, people have reported hesitancy about returning for a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna after their employer criticized them for missing work because of side effects from the first shot, Chomilo said.

Encouraging families, teens

Minnesota is prioritizing 12- to 15-year-olds and their families for walk-ins at the Mall of America mass vaccination site, state officials said Wednesday.

Roughly 21,000 kids ages 12 to 15 have gotten the Pfizer vaccine since eligibility expanded to them last week, state data indicate.

Parental consent is required in Minnesota. Nationally, parents who don't plan to get the vaccine themselves also say they won't have their children vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted last month, before eligibility expanded.

Three state commissioners and deputy commissioners brought their kids to get vaccinated at the Mall of America site on Wednesday.

"I was the last of my friend group to turn 16, so I was really excited to get vaccinated," said Kendra Mueller, daughter of state Education Commissioner Heather Mueller. "I'm working with kids during summer camps this summer, so it's definitely a big deal because not all of them can get vaccinated."

Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for a vaccine.