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Missouri pleads with CDC to reconsider rejection of state’s vaccine incentive plan

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri officials are asking the federal government to reconsider after it rejected the state’s proposed vaccine incentive program, an effort to combat the rising COVID-19 cases in the state. 

Missouri proposed using federal grant money given to the state and earmarked for immunizations to incentivize individuals who got vaccinated with a potential $10,000 award. There would be 500 chances, spread across the state, for people to win $10,000, Robert Knodell, interim director of the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), said in an interview with The Missouri Times.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) denied the program as it exceeds its cap of $25 per person. Knodell asked Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, to reconsider the decision in a letter sent Friday afternoon. 

“We’re trying to convey the gravity of the situation accurately, and we would like for them to work with us on this particular project to help use every possible tool in our arsenal to convince Missourians to be vaccinated and to fight this vaccine hesitancy,” Knodell said. “We would certainly appreciate them recognizing what we’re facing here and partnering up on a project that I think would work.” 

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson called the rejection “totally ridiculous.” 

Missouri has garnered national attention in recent weeks as vaccination rates remain fairly low and cases continue to rise. Springfield-area hospitals have requested an alternate care site to aid patients.

Only 56.4 percent of adult Missourians initiated vaccination with just under 50 percent completing the process.

At least 16 people have died from COVID-19 and more than 8,700 people tested positive over the past seven days. More than 1,300 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 with 425 in the ICU and 206 on ventilators, according to the latest DHSS data. 

“While Missouri appreciates the collaboration and support, the current Immunizations Grant guidance does not adequately provide a realistic opportunity for incentivizing unvaccinated Missourians to move beyond their current vaccine hesitancies,” Knodell said in the letter to Walensky. “The designed program, as submitted, is intended to provide an adequate incentive localized to each Congressional District in a manner that builds momentum and provides an adequate financial incentive for some, but not all, Missourians to move beyond their vaccine hesitancy.” 

Scott Pauley, a CDC spokesperson, said CDC guidelines allow for store and transportation vouchers as well as gift cards as vaccine incentives. However, incentives are capped at $25 per person.

“Additionally, incentive funds cannot be pooled to create one, limited opportunity incentive,” Pauley said. “Raffles, or games of chance, are not a permissible use of funds.”

DHSS is considering still “multiple program options and funding options” for vaccine incentives, DHSS spokeswoman Lisa Cox said.

This story has been updated.