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Free Beer, Other New Incentives for Biden’s “Vaccine Sprint”

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is announcing a "month of action" to urge more Americans to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before the July 4 holiday, with an early summer sprint of incentives, including free beer, childcare and sports tickets to persuade Americans to roll up their sleeves.

In a Wednesday afternoon address from the White House, Biden is to announce a slew of new steps to ease barriers to vaccinations and to make getting shots more appealing to those who haven't received doses. He is closing in on his goal to get 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by Independence Day — essential to his aim of returning the nation to a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy this summer. 

"We're looking at June as a critical month in our path to normal and as a critical month in order to continue the progress we're making in our vaccination campaign," Courtney Rowe, the director of strategic communications and engagement for the White House COVID-19 response team, told the AP.

The White House said Biden's "month of action" will continue to use public and private-sector partnerships to encourage Americans to get shots, mirroring the "whole of government" effort Biden deployed to make vaccines more widely available after he took office.

Anheuser-Busch announced a promotional giveaway Wednesday morning, saying it would "buy Americans 21+ a round of beer" once Biden's 70% goal was met. 

Additionally, the White House is partnering with early childhood centers such as KinderCare, Learning Care Group, Bright Horizons and more than 500 YMCAs to provide free childcare coverage for Americans looking for shots or needing assistance while recovering from side effects.

The administration is also launching a new partnership to bring vaccine education and even doses to more than a thousand Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons, building on a successful pilot program in Maryland.

They're the latest vaccine sweeteners, building on other incentives like cash giveaways, sports tickets or paid leave, to keep up the pace of vaccinations.

"The fact remains that despite all the progress, those who are unvaccinated still remain at risk of getting seriously ill or dying or spreading the disease to others," said Rowe.

Aiming to make injections even more convenient, Biden is announcing that many pharmacies are extending their hours this month — and thousands will remain open overnight on Fridays. The White House is also stepping up its efforts to help employers run on-site vaccination clinics. 

Biden will also announce that he is assigning Vice President Kamala Harris to lead a "We Can Do This" vaccination tour to encourage shots. It will include first lady Jill Biden, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and Cabinet officials. Harris' travel will be focused on the South, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, while other officials will travel to areas of the Midwest with below average rates.

To date 62.8% of the adult U.S. population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 133.6 million are fully vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed to an average below 600,000 per day, down from more than 800,000 when incentives like lotteries were announced, and down from a peak of nearly 2 million per day in early April when demand for shots was much higher.

The lengths to which the U.S. is resorting to convince Americans to take a life-saving shot stands in contrast to much of the world, where vaccines are far less plentiful. Facing a mounting U.S. surplus, the Biden administration is planning to begin sharing 80 million doses with the world this month.

As part of the effort to drive Americans to get shots, the White House is borrowing some tools from political campaigns, including phone banks, door-knocking and text banking. The administration says more than 1,000 such events will be held this coming weekend alone. Additionally, it is organizing competitions between cities and colleges to drive up vaccination rates.

Other new incentives include a $2 million commitment from DoorDash to provide gift cards to community health centers to be used to drive people to get vaccinated. CVS launched a sweepstakes with prizes including free cruises and Super Bowl tickets. Major League Baseball will host on-site vaccine clinics and ticket giveaways at games. And Kroger will give $1 million to a vaccinated person each week this month and dozens of people free groceries for the year.

The fine print on the Anheuser-Busch promotion reveals the benefits to the sponsoring company, which will collect consumer data and photos through its website to register, and that it will only provide $5 credits to the first 200,000 people to respond once the nation reaches the vaccine threshold.

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