MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than 17,400 Minnesotans cashed in on rewards in a state vaccine incentive program designed to boost shots in arms, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which is a fraction of the initial goal.

In late May, Gov. Tim Walz announced the “Your Shot to Summer Campaign” with freebies like state park passes, fishing licenses and state fair tickets for anyone who got their COVID-19 vaccine in June. He said he chose smaller prizes — instead of million-dollar rewards like some states — in order to reach more people. The program was set up for 100,000 people to cash in on the prizes.

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Kris Ehresmann, MDH’s infectious disease director, said those who claimed rewards made up 10% of all residents who got their vaccine last month.

“Clearly that wasn’t the driver for everyone,” Ehresmann said.

But the program did reach a key demographic: 12 to 17 year olds, who claimed one-third of the prizes. More than 80% of participants were under 49.

 

(credit: CBS)

The $25 Visa gift card was the most popular choice, accounting for 57% of all rewards, followed by state fair tickets, Valleyfair tickets and state park passes.

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Requests came from every single county in Minnesota, but the highest rates per capita were in Greater Minnesota in Mille Lacs, Renville, Sibley, Wabasha, Brown and Lake counties.

Vaccinations have slowed since the initial surge in demand for shots, and Ehresmann noted that supply now outpaces demand.

The health department is adjusting its vaccine outreach efforts now, including with the closure of most mass vaccination sites. She highlighted doubling down on community partners like pop-up sites in barbershops.

Rates of vaccination vary county-to-county. Cook County boasts some of the best numbers at 83% of its 16+ population inoculated, compared to 40% in Benton County, according to state data.

The discrepancies among different pockets of the state is concerning, Ehresmann said, noting the rise in variants circulating Minnesota.

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“We know we’ll see transmission in areas with those low vaccine coverage levels,” she said. “So we are concerned that there are differences in coverage.”

Caroline Cummings