CASPER – Albany County and the city of Laramie are partnering with other local organizations to boost the area’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, and they’ve put their money where their mouths are.
Both entities Tuesday night approved up to $25,000 in public dollars to support an incentive and outreach program, which offers $25 gift cards for individuals getting a first shot and allows them to enter weekly and grand prize drawings.
The effort, dubbed the Laramie Vaccine Project, hinges on the understanding that while the shots themselves are free, for many accessing them isn’t as easy as walking into a doctor’s office for a routine appointment. Childcare concerns, difficulty getting time off work, limited access to primary care providers, worries about vaccine side-effects and general misinformation have all contributed to stunted uptake, explained Father Rob Spaulding, who leads the University of Wyoming St. Paul’s Newman Center.
In addition to the gift cards and prize drawings, community groups are working with the local United Way to establish a stipend fund for residents who need to take time off work or find child care to either get vaccinated or to recover from potential side effects.
“A broad coalition of community members and agencies have come together to address these barriers to vaccination and to launch a campaign to increase vaccination rates in Albany County to at least 70 percent,” Laramie City Council member Sharon Cumbie told her colleagues Tuesday.
Albany County has the state’s second-highest adult and adolescent vaccination rates, with just more than 52 percent of adults fully vaccinated and nearly 37 percent of those 12 to 17 years old.
Those figures are still a far cry from the county’s 70 percent goal, and community leaders say uptake has stalled.
“It’s going to take a concerted effort to get those rates to climb,” city of Laramie Recreation Manager Jodi Guerin said.
What that will look like in practice includes education and targeted outreach in addition to monetary incentives. Guerin explained the initiative is not meant to pressure those who have already made up their minds not to get the shots.
Rather, “we are really seeking the population of people who maybe haven’t gotten them because it wasn’t easy or convenient, or they didn’t have time, they didn’t think maybe it was completely necessary, and help them make the decision to go ahead and get vaccinated.”
The community program takes its lead from the University of Wyoming, which launched its own incentive efforts in late April amid lower-than-desired vaccination rates among staff, faculty and students, explained Mandy Gifford, who works in the university president’s office.
She said that program, which makes students and employees eligible for cash and other prizes, has grown the university’s employee vaccination rate from 55 to 73 percent.
Additionally, 1,000 students reported their vaccination status to the university in the first three and a half weeks of the program.
The new initiative is expected to launch this month. Flyers on the city of Laramie website set Aug. 30 as the program’s start date, though Gifford and Guerin said it may be launched as soon as this week.
Wyoming is among the least vaccinated states in the nation, with less than 35% of the population fully inoculated as of Monday.
Gov. Mark Gordon said this week that state-level interventions to improve those numbers will not occur, deferring instead to local officials. Albany County’s incentive program follows Teton County, which launched a prize campaign called “Shots for Swag” in May.
At the time, state officials were discussing the potential for a broad incentive program, the governor’s spokesperson Michael Pearlman told the Star-Tribune in May. But no statewide program has materialized.