Nearly 900 employees took $100 vaccine incentive, data shows


By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Nearly 900 state employees and more than 200 of their spouses took advantage of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s vaccine incentive offer after he rolled it out last month, records show.

The Republican governor announced the offer — $100 for employees and $25 for their spouses — as COVID-19 vaccination efforts stalled amid spiking case numbers and hospitalizations.

“We are hopeful the enhanced incentive encourages any individuals on the fence regarding the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dan Tierney, a DeWine spokesperson, said Wednesday.

A day earlier, DeWine said his office has told every health department in Ohio that the state will be there if they want to try their own incentive program.

“If you think that will work in your community, we will be there to help support that with the dollars,” DeWine said.

For the upcoming Aug. 27 paycheck, the state submitted incentive payments for 882 employees and 218 spouses, according to records provided to The Associated Press by the Department of Administrative Services.

Ohio has about 50,000 state employees. There’s no overall record of how many are vaccinated, though some individual agencies have figures.

For example, staff vaccination rates range from 69% to 80% at the state’s six psychiatric hospitals, according to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The rate is 58.3% among the 726 employees of Ohio’s two state-funded veterans homes.

In Columbus, a similar $100 incentive program for residents launched last month resulted in a 288% increase in vaccinations in the program’s first week after weeks of declining numbers, said Kelli Newman, a Columbus health department spokesperson. Subsequent weeks also saw increases, though smaller, with figures holding steady since, Newman said.

DeWine launched the nationwide movement to offer financial incentives to individuals to receive the vaccine in May with Ohio’s Vax-a-Million program, a lottery that awarded five $1 million prizes to adults and five full-ride college scholarships to children.

While the program generated excitement, it resulted in only a temporary rise in vaccinations before numbers fell again. In July, the governor suggested he might launch a more modest statewide incentive program, then put the idea on hold to urge the FDA to grant COVID-19 vaccinations full approval. The governor has argued the vaccinations’ current emergency use authorization is fueling vaccine hesitancy.

Just over 50% of the Ohio population, or about 5.7 million people, have begun the vaccination process, according to Department of Health records. About 47% have completed the process, or about 5.4 million people. Among Ohioans 18 years old and older, the vaccination rate is 57%.

Ohio’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 778.71 new cases per day on July 26 to 1,875.29 new cases per day on Aug. 9, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Nearly all of the approximately 18,600 people hospitalized with COVID-19 this year were not fully vaccinated, the governor said earlier this month.

Also Wednesday, DeWine announced that Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the Health Department’s medical director, was promoted to lead the agency as its director. Current director Stephanie McCloud will return to her previous post running the state insurance fund for injured workers.

Vanderhoff has been the state’s public face for medical responses to the coronavirus for several months, assuming the role formerly filled by Dr. Amy Acton, the previous health department director who resigned suddenly a year ago in the face of intensive conservative criticism of her directives. That criticism included armed protesters rallying outside her house in suburban Columbus.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press