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Carroll County Times Opinion

Blubaugh: Incentivizing vaccinations? Straightforward messaging? What took so long? | COMMENTARY

I can envision the conversation playing out all over Maryland and a number of other states.

“You getting the COVID vaccine?”

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“Nah, you kidding? It got approved too fast, blah, blah, blah. Big pharma, blah, blah, blah. The government, blah, blah, blah. Tracking chips, blah, blah, blah.”

“Yeah, but you could win a lot of money.”

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“Where do I sign up?”

Yes, it seems ridiculous Maryland and the likes of Ohio and New York would have to have to start a lottery to entice people to do what they should’ve been doing anyway, but this is a pandemic that’s been going on for far too long. We have the ability to end it and should use all means at our disposal.

Like good, old-fashioned bribery. Incentivizing with pizza or alcohol was a fine idea. This is even better.

If the only way to get someone who is legitimately worried about the vaccine off the fence — not to mention the many someones who believe this to be a political issue or sociological experiment — is to offer a daily $40,000 drawing open to any adult who is vaccinated with a $400,000 grand prize to be drawn on the Fourth of July, well, get the oversized checks ready.

And hey, Bill Gates is too busy with his own problems to worry about tracking folks right now anyway.

What Maryland and these other states have done is offer a compelling, possibly life-changing, reason to get this effective, possibly life-saving vaccine. And simplified the message: You should get vaccinated and here’s a monetary incentive for you to do so. Heck, the only reason most of the population goes to work every day is that monetary incentive every two weeks.

Plus, won money is sweeter than earned money. There’s a reason lotteries pay out billions across the country each year and still turn a huge profit for states. And why Maryland has finally legalized sports betting.

This strategy should have been employed long ago.

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If Maryland had sent out 10 state workers each and every day with a thousand-dollar check to give to someone on public transportation or in a grocery store or at their place of work who was wearing a mask, people previously refusing to mask up would’ve donned neon-green face coverings with the words “Pick Me!” in bold type.

If Gov. Larry Hogan himself had vowed to stop by five residences at random on Christmas Day with a $50,000 check in hand, but was only giving it out to households with no outside guests, the large gatherings that caused the deadly post-holiday surge may have been curtailed.

It’s not just the money that’s welcome here, either, it’s the straightforward, easy-to-understand messaging.

In addition to politics becoming intertwined with the virus, another tremendous problem has been the CDC’s inability to tell people how to handle it. Trying to figure out what was really dangerous vs. what was almost certainly pretty safe and what was really effective at stopping the virus vs. mere hygiene theater turned a big chunk of America against all guidance from health care professionals.

It’s a virus that is spread through the air. Telling us we needed to wipe down packages and take a day to disinfect desks or that we needed to stay out of rooms where someone potentially infected had been as if they’d been sprinkling anthrax was ridiculous. Initially telling people they didn’t need to be wearing masks was a bell that couldn’t be unrung. To many, the CDC’s quick flip-flop on that one cost all credibility. And the idea that people needed to keep the masks on and keep their distance outside never made much sense either.

Had the CDC, from the start, said masks and social distancing are critical in closed-in environments like offices and classrooms, but could be abandoned the moment you are back outdoors, how different might much of the country felt about masking up when it was truly needed?

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And telling vaccinated people they still needed to wear masks? That was met with a gigantic, then why should I bother?

The ability to rid oneself of the much-maligned face covering should’ve been a prime motivator driving people toward the vaccine. The second dose should have come with an “I’m fully immunized” hospital-style bracelet, giving people the right to move about freely in all settings, sans masks. Envy would’ve caused people to immediately register for vaccine appointments.

At any rate, Maryland is now putting forth a very clear message. Get a shot in the arm, you’ve got a shot at big bucks!

I’m hopeful the state’s residents will heed the call, stop gambling on their health and, instead, take a chance at hitting the vaccine lottery. And if they don’t? Well, better odds for me.

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.


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