Gov. Spencer Cox urges Utahns to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but incentives are on hold

Cox’s enthusiasm over Ohio’s $1 million drawing has cooled and he’s watching ‘to see what’s working in other states’

Gov. Spencer Cox has a direct message for Utahns who are still on the fence about getting the COVID-19 vaccine: “Get the vaccine.”

Whether the state will put money behind that message — in the form of direct incentives — remains unclear.

Since the state opened up vaccinations to all adults, “we have had more than 70 people die from the coronavirus,” Cox said Thursday at his weekly COVID-19 media briefing. “Those are completely preventable deaths, every single one of those.”

On the other hand, Cox said, “we have not had a single person in the state of Utah die from getting the vaccine — and we have only one person die [from COVID-19] who was fully vaccinated.”

According to the Utah Department of Health’s latest count Thursday, 56.5% of the Utahns eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine — anyone 12 years old or older — have gotten at least one dose, and nearly 46% of those eligible are fully vaccinated.

Of the entire population — including children under 12, who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine — 45.7% of all Utahns have received at least one dose, and 37% are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, UDOH’s deputy director, said Thursday that since January 1, there have been 120,933 Utahns diagnosed with COVID-19 — and 99.5% of them were unvaccinated. Of the 5,016 Utahns hospitalized with COVID-19 since the first of the year, 98.7% were not vaccinated.

Those statistics, she said, are “a really compelling picture about the effectiveness of these vaccines,” Hofmann said. “These vaccines are safe. They are exceedingly effective. They are the magic bullet.”

Efforts for the state to provide incentives to get the vaccine are on hold, Cox said, as officials watch “to see what’s working in other states, what’s not working.”

Two weeks ago, Cox expressed enthusiasm about Ohio’s program — called Vax-a-Million — to award five lucky vaccine recipients a $1 million cash prize. The first of those prizes was given out Wednesday, to a woman in suburban Cincinnati.

On Thursday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz was expected to announce that residents there who get the COVID-19 jab could be eligible to win free fishing licenses or passes to state parks and other attractions.

Any such incentives in Utah would have to be funded by the legislature, Cox noted. Jonathan Ball, director of the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst, told lawmakers at an interim meeting of the Utah Legislature’s Executive Appropriations Committee on May 17 that “there’s not much appetite in the legislature for that.”

Businesses have stepped in with incentives of their own. The pharmacy chain CVS Health announced Thursday that, starting June 1, it would hold a sweepstakes for any customer who received or planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine through a CVS pharmacy. Among the prizes in the six-week sweepstakes are trips to Bermuda, the Super Bowl in Los Angeles, and the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas.

Elsewhere, Krispy Kreme stores (there are five in Utah) are giving one free original glazed doughnut a day to anyone who shows the cashier their vaccination card. Shake Shack, which has locations in Sandy and Murray, is offering free crinkle-cut fries (with the purchase of a burger or chicken sandwich) for anyone showing a vaccination card through June 12.

“It would be really great if we didn’t need any incentives at all,” Cox said. “Hopefully, not dying is a great incentive.”

Cox also said Thursday’s news conference would be the last weekly COVID-19 briefing, and he would be switching to every other week in June. “This is good news,” he said. “It means we don’t have as much news to announce.”