Milwaukee announces second dose COVID-19 vaccine incentive program

$25 gift cards on offer for 1K people getting a second vaccine dose, but boosters not included

A sign in the shape of an arrow says "Vaccines."
A sign points in the direction of a clinic where both flu and COVID-19 vaccines are being administered Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, at Franklin Middle School in Janesville, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The City of Milwaukee is giving 1,000 people who receive a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine $25 gift cards starting Thursday.

Milwaukee Health Department Commissioner Kirsten Johnson said for vaccines that require a second dose, getting that shot is important for maximizing the body’s immune response.

“We’re trying to time this incentive to really encourage those folks who may be on the fence on that second dose to get in before we have some big pushes for boosters and children,” said Johnson.

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The reward will be offered at three city locations: the Northwest Health Center at 7630 W. Mill Rd., the Southside Health Center at 1639 S. 23rd St., and the Menomonee Valley COVID-19 Site at 2401 W. St. Paul Ave.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County has gone down 19 percent over the past two weeks, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, though the department’s tracker still indicates a “very high” level of case activity in the county. Meanwhile, the county’s death count has leveled out. As of Thursday, the last new confirmed death from the virus had been added to the total Oct. 11.

Johnson said the vaccine situation in Milwaukee is improving with time.

“We’ve seen some increased vaccine uptake since sort of the end of August when vaccine mandates started to come out and when students started to go back to school,” said Johnson.

According to DHS, around 57 percent of people living in Milwaukee County have gotten at least one vaccine dose. But more than 36,000 residents who got a first shot haven’t come back for a second shot.

The $25 gift card is the latest in a series of vaccine incentives offered in Wisconsin in recent months. $100 gift cards went to 1,000 people in September as part of a Milwaukee program encouraging people to get the vaccine. That followed in the wake of a larger-scale program DHS offered between Aug. 20 and Sept. 19.

Johnson said the gift cards for the city’s $100 gift card incentive ran out within four days of the program’s start.

“We had people lined up on that Thursday morning waiting to get their vaccine,” said Johnson. “We didn’t see that same sort of response to the governor, the state incentive.”

Incentive programs throughout the country have produced mixed results. One report in the New England Journal of Medicine stated while rewards can be effective in the short term, success depends on implementing a program efficiently and delivering rewards in a timely manner.

Anyone eligible to get the vaccine who hasn’t gotten a second shot can receive the $25 gift card as part of the newest program, according to a city press release. However, the program does not include vaccine booster shots.

“We anticipated we’d have a surge of people coming in to get boosters,” said Johnson. “We’ve had some, but certainly not a surge like we had last winter for the first dose or the second dose.”

Johnson said there had been confusion around booster shot eligibility, a situation she hoped would be remedied with the FDA’s authorization of boosters for the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines. That’s in addition to the Pfizer booster shot, which the FDA authorized last month.