“Are cigarettes next?” Trump’s surgeon general criticizes Biden’s and states’ unhealthy vaccination incentives
Lotteries, free beers and other incentives have been touted as methods to increase vaccination rates against COVID-119 among those who may hesitate, but officials say they may be promoting unhealthy behavior along the way.
Jerome Adams, the US surgeon general under former President Donald Trump, criticized current President Joe Biden and states for offering liquor when people are vaccinated.
“Do public health advocates who have tried to sound the alarm about the health complications of increasing alcohol consumption really have no problem with a federally sanctioned beer giveaway?” he tweeted Tuesday.
“I’m all for incentives/rewards, and I’m not against people making personal choices about drinking, but even the current Surgeon General has released a report warning about the health effects of alcohol consumption.”
Adams suggested that the incentives may promote alcoholism, gambling and other unhealthy behaviors at the expense of vaccination.
Ohio saw a 55 percent increase in vaccinations after the lottery was set up, and Krispy Kreme has given away 1.5 million donuts, but experts say it’s hard to say whether incentives are really pushing the needle across the country — or if someone is. really going to be an alcoholic because of one free beer.
Jerome Adams, former US surgeon general under President Trump, questioned the value of free beer as a vaccine incentive
Adams referred to a 2016 report written under current Surgeon General Vivek Murthy
Everyone from the US president to major sports teams has announced creative incentives to promote vaccination.
As the daily number of vaccinations across the country continues to slow, experts worry the US may not meet President Biden’s latest vaccine target — 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.
About 64 percent of adults have received at least one dose, as of June 7. Thirteen states have met President Biden’s goal — while many others have vaccinated less than half of their adult populations.
Only one million Americans are now vaccinated every day — compared to more than three million a day during the peak vaccination effort in mid-April.
The vast majority of Americans who urgently wanted to be vaccinated have already done so, as indicated by poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and other organizations.
The people who have not yet been vaccinated face access problems or do not see a COVID injection as a necessity. Incentive programs aim to bridge the gap for these Americans, giving them another reason to get their photos taken.
One well-known incentive program is Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery – in which vaccinated Ohio residents can enter to win a million dollars.
In the days after that program was announced, the state saw a 55 percent increase in vaccination rates for young adults. In some parts of the state, the increase was even more dramatic, with vaccination rates doubling in a few counties.
Only one million Americans are vaccinated every day, compared to more than three million in mid-April
Some South and Midwestern states are lagging behind in vaccinating their populations
Inspired by the success of Ohio’s Vax-a-Million program, the federal government allowed states to use funding from the US bailout plan for similar incentives. States from West Virginia to California now have lotteries.
Companies also offer vaccination incentives. Federal Government Vaccine Website Lists almost a hundred rewards.
Just to name a few, dating apps Tinder, Bumble and Hinge offer premium content to vaccinated users. Sports teams give discounts to vaccinated fans. United Airlines is holding a free airfare sweepstakes for vaccinated flyers.
President Biden announced one of the biggest incentives to date on June 2, in a speech delivered in June ‘month of action’ to promote vaccinations.
If the nation hits Biden’s 70 percent target, the Anheuser-Busch brewery will “buy Americans 21+ a round of beer.” Any American (of drinking age) who uploads a photo of themselves to an Anheuser-Busch website will receive a five dollar drink coupon.
This beer giveaway attracted Adams on Tuesday to comment on the “unhealthy” nature of some vaccine incentives.
Adams pointed out that Vivek Murthy – the current Surgeon General under Biden – has released a comprehensive report on the risks of alcohol and drug use in 2016, when he was Surgeon General under former President Obama.
Adams argued that the rewards can have unintended consequences, such as promoting alcoholism and other unhealthy behaviors. Pictured: Adams speaks after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at the White House, December 2020
The report contains many concerning statistics about alcohol abuse in the US: in 2015, for example, 67 million Americans reported binge drinking. That represents about a fifth of the population.
have alcohol deaths increased in recent years, as Kate Julian reported in The Atlantic.
The number of such deaths doubled in the US from 199 to 2017, now exceeding 70,000 deaths per year.
Adams also called out the cash raffles held in many states for promoting gambling and mentioned donuts, referring to Krispy Kreme’s giveaway.
Krispy Kreme’s giveaway — vaccinated Americans can get a free donut every day — drew criticism when it was announced in March.
Emergency room physician and former head of Planned Parenthood Dr. Leana Wen tweeted: ‘donuts are a treat that not good for health if it is eaten every day.’
Other health experts pushed back Dr. Wen’s comments at the time, saying she encouraged fat phobia and that COVID is much more dangerous than eating donuts on a regular basis.
The same argument can be made about Anheuser-Busch’s beer giveaway – a single free beer doesn’t make one an alcoholic.
Still, Adams’ tweets point to an unhealthy trend in US vaccination incentives.
“Are cigarettes next?” Adams in his tweet.
“I’ve tried to wait it out because I know my message will probably be seen by some as an attack on the government, but I won’t. I’m just now beginning to feel really comfortable with the public health compromises here. And the messages we subtly send our youth. Is it really worth it?’
So far, there is little data on the effectiveness of vaccination programs to actually increase vaccination coverage. The Ohio lottery has led to higher vaccination rates, at least for a short time, and Krispy Kreme has: 1.5 million free donuts given away.
But it will take more time and more careful research to determine whether the incentives are “really worth it,” as Adams put it.