Long Beach could look to incentives to prod hesitant residents to get vaccinated

Prepaid debit cards, free beer, paid days off and even free New York Yankee tickets have all been offered across the country as states try to incentivize people to get a COVID-19 vaccine and now Long Beach could be looking to sweeten the deal for holdouts in the coming weeks.

 Mayor Robert Garcia said during a Wednesday press conference that the city is actively discussing what kinds of incentives can be offered in the coming weeks. The strategy is part of the city’s push to get more people vaccinated as the rate of shots being administered has dramatically slowed in recent weeks. Just under 60% of eligible Long Beach residents having at least one dose.

Garcia pointed to places like New Jersey, where fully vaccinated adults can get a free beer, and New York, where Mets and Yankee tickets are free to those who get their dose at the stadium.

“All of those types of programs need to be debated here,” Garcia said, adding that incentives could be offered as soon as in the next few days.

Garcia’s comments about incentives come after weeks of declining vaccine rates in the city. Thousands of people are overdue for their second doses and demand for first doses has plummeted.

For months, the city had averaged thousands of first and second doses administered per day but on May 4, the last day city data was available, a total of 238 people received either.

Vaccine hesitancy is going to be the next big challenge for the city, Garcia said, adding that the “gulf between 60% and 70% is going to be very hard to close.”

“We can’t end up in a situation where 40% of the population is not vaccinated,” Garcia said. “This will keep us in a loop of not beating this thing and we’ve got to do better.”

The city has changed its approach, deploying a number of mobile vaccination units in recent weeks to get to hard-to-reach communities, which have also been some of the hardest hit by the virus.

Garcia announced last week the city is also partnering with the Long Beach Unified School District to set up vaccine sites ahead of an anticipated announcement that younger children 12 and older might soon be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

But to get over the 60% hump and beyond might require rewards that could include free tickets to events, free beer, free coffee or other incentives that Garcia said the city is actively trying to negotiate.

“We should be thinking about everything,” Garcia said.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.