Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday the first of several initiatives to encourage the estimated 588,000 eligible West Virginians who are hesitant to get vaccines to get their COVID-19 shots: $100 U.S. savings bonds to all residents ages 16 to 35 who get vaccinated.
Justice said during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing that he opted for savings bonds instead of cash to play to a potential sense of patriotism among younger West Virginians.
“The people that need to step up are our young folks, and I know they’re going to do it,” said the governor, referencing the current trend of spread of COVID-19 variants predominately among ages 10 to 35.
Justice said he’s hoping that 275,000 of the roughly 380,000 nonvaccinated West Virginians ages 16 to 35 will take him up on his offer, which he said will be funded using unexpended federal CARES Act pandemic stimulus funds.
Reaching that goal, the governor said, would push statewide vaccination rates above 70%, the threshold health experts believe would permit the state to drop mask-wearing and social distancing mandates.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources COVID-19 dashboard, 37.9% of West Virginians ages 16 and older are fully vaccinated.
Given the current reluctance among many West Virginians to get vaccinated, Justice said that, without incentives, “We’re going to be faced with wearing these masks that nobody likes for a long, long time.”
According to the State Auditor’s Office, as of April 20, more than $615 million of the $1.27 billion of CARES Act funds directed to the state remain unspent.
The governor on Monday erroneously stated that reaching the goal of 275,000 savings bond participants would cost the state $27.5 million. Actually, Class EE savings bonds sell for half of face value, and mature to face value in 20 years, which would put the total cost to the state for 275,000 $100 bonds at $13.75 million.
Justice said he thinks savings bonds will be more meaningful to recipients than cash payments.
“A hundred dollars will get gone just like that,” he said. “I want our young people to see and understand they’re doing something important.”
The governor said Monday that he will be announcing other initiatives to encourage the vaccine hesitant to get their COVID-19 shots, part of a program he has dubbed “Beat 588 Bad.”
Other possibilities, he said, include mobile vaccination vans, as well as vaccination clinics at fairs and festivals and sporting events; at state, national and county parks; and at bars, restaurants and shopping centers.
Justice also suggested that students sponsor vaccination clinics as school service projects.
“There’s lots and lots of good ideas here, but I’m telling you we’ve got to kickstart this and kickstart this fast,” he said.
Statewide vaccination rates have plummeted in April, as numerous national surveys show that Republicans, evangelical Christians and residents of rural areas have the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy.
The peak day for vaccinations during the week of March 28 to April 3 was 14,436 doses on March 31.
For the week of April 4 to April 10, the peak day on April 8 fell to 9,848 doses, and in the week of April 11 to April 17, the peak day dropped to 4,684 doses on April 11.
From April 18 to April 24, the peak day fell to 3,491 doses on April 22.
Overall, state vaccination rates have plunged from an average of more than 17,000 vaccinations a day at the end of March to fewer than 2,500 vaccinations a day last week.