Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Health have announced a new $7.5 million vaccine incentive program for college students, the latest taxpayer-funded giveaway aimed at increasing the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rate.
Called “Shot For 100,” the initiative will award the first 75,000 college students $100 each if they are vaccinated at participating colleges and universities. All unvaccinated 18- to 29-year-old students are eligible, which Edwards said is one of the least vaccinated groups in the state.
“With the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant and its devastating impact on our communities including younger populations, we are seeing more young people go sleeves up,” Edwards said.
“More than anything, students want an in-person college experience. But to do that safely, we need more shots in arms,” he said.
The incentive program coincides with the beginning of the fall semester and thwarted attempts to impose vaccine mandates on returning students.
Edwards, a Democrat, has been at odds publicly with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, over student mask and vaccine mandates. Landry maintains mandatory vaccines violate state and federal law and supports a right to choose.
Landry confronted Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, located at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, last month when several students said they were retaliated against for refusing to get vaccinated. The confrontation may have had a chilling effect.
Louisiana State University faculty voted for mandatory student vaccines for the fall semester, but a mandate has not yet been implemented for the school’s 34,000 students.
Now, all higher education institutions in the state — public universities, private institutions and community and technical colleges — are eligible to award $100 to students who receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a school-approved vaccination site.
“We hope this fun vaccine perk nudges more young people to get the vaccine now rather than later and keep up the momentum we need to put this pandemic behind us,” State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said.
The Department of Health said it’s working with the Louisiana Board of Regents to establish the program across individual campuses. Funding comes from unspent federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money, the department said.
Eligible students will be given a deactivated Visa card upon receiving a vaccination dose. To collect the $100, they then need to register at ShotFor100.com, which requires entering personal identity information, the date of vaccination and a unique 10-digit vaccine code.
According to the Department of Health, the $100 reward is taxable and student information will be retained by the state.
Edwards said 18- to 29-year-olds are reporting the most COVID-19 cases statewide, though hospitalization data was not included in the governor’s news release.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an expanded grouping of 18- to 49-year-olds nationally had a corresponding rate of 4.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in the age group for the week ending Aug. 7. However, those over age 29 are more than four times as likely to be hospitalized than those 18-29, the CDC said.
Eight Louisiana universities already participate in a U.S. Department of Education vaccine incentive program called “Don’t wait. Vaccinate!”
The program allows fully vaccinated students to win one of 10 prizes in a series of drawings that began Aug. 10 and end in early October. Prizes include iPhones, MacBook Airs, Oculus Quest gaming systems, Apple watches with $300 declining balances and free campus parking.
The ShotFor100 program mirrors the state’s Shot At a Million vaccine lottery, which offers $2.3 million in cash and prizes.
A widely-cited study from the Boston University School of Medicine determined taxpayer-funded incentive lotteries do not increase COVID-19 vaccination rates.