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100K Missourians register for vaccine incentive program in first day

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — About 100,000 Missourians registered for one of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine incentive programs less than 24 hours after it was announced, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). 

Under the MO VIP incentive program, 900 Missourians will have the chance to win cash or prizes amounting to $10,000 over the next three months. The program will use federal COVID-19 funds. 

In a press call Thursday morning, DHSS Acting Director Robert Knodell said the department was not looking for a specific number of entries to consider the program a success — instead, officials are focusing on an overall increase in vaccination rates. 

“At the end of the day, we want to see the state’s vaccination rate increase,” Knodell said. “There’s no magic number to get there. At one point, we were simply struggling to stop the decline. Not only do we want to stop that decline, we want to see the numbers go up.” 

“Everyone who gets vaccinated during the duration of this program is a winner whether they get a prize or not,” he continued. “This vaccine will allow them to live their lives more confidently, more normally, to know they’re protecting themselves and their neighbors and helping their communities defeat COVID-19 and the delta variant.”

Knodell also touched on the requirements for the program, explaining the intent was to ensure participants consented to a check of their vaccination records as required for the incentives. It also allows parents of students applying for the chance to win a $10,000 education savings account (ESA) to approve their entry. 

Lisa Cox, a DHSS spokeswoman, said using registration rather than state health records also allowed those vaccinated on military bases or through federal retail partners to opt-in as well. 

Drawings will begin Aug. 13 and continue biweekly through Oct. 8. All winners will have their vaccination records verified before receiving their prizes. Knodell noted the ongoing nature of the program would allow the department to adapt its approach based on what proves effective. 

Additionally, local health agencies administering the vaccine will be eligible to provide gift cards up to $25 for each vaccine recipient, totaling $11 million from CDC Immunizations grant funding. The fund will provide incentives for up to 440,000 vaccines and sunset at the end of the year. Adam Crumbliss, director of the Division of Community and Public Health, said the department was meeting with local health agencies to go over the application process and ensure the program goes into effect as soon as possible.

“We anticipate continuing to make every effort that we can to continue pushing for higher vaccination numbers and getting that done is in cooperation with our local public health agencies,” Crumbliss said. “They often take the brunt of the criticism and concern from citizens, so I wanted to take a moment to highlight the fact that those local partners are the ways that we will continue to move forward and be successful in these efforts.”

Money received under both programs is taxable under Missouri law. 

Members of the executive branch, legislators and their households, incarcerated felons, and employees of the departments involved in the initiatives are ineligible for the initiatives. Recipients who owe money to the state will also see a deduction from their allotment to cover their debt.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 2.8 million Missourians had initiated vaccination and 2.48 million were fully inoculated, amounting to 46.6 of the state’s population. The state reported 10,367 positive cases and 24 deaths over the past seven days.