Dubuque County supervisors confirmed Wednesday that they will no longer pursue a lottery incentive in hopes of increasing the county’s COVID-19 vaccination rate.
The proposal from the Dubuque County COVID-19 Incident Management Team, at the behest of the county supervisors, would have awarded four $10,000 prizes to fully vaccinated residents. Two of the prizes would have gone to people in the initial pool of the fully vaccinated, while the second two would have been awarded to people who then got fully vaccinated after the initial drawing.
County Board of Health members voted, 5-0, last week against the proposal, largely because of a lack of evidence that such incentives succeed in encouraging vaccinations.
That board’s vote and discussion convinced county Supervisor Ann McDonough that the vaccine lottery should not be pursued further. She, as chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, would need to add the issue to a future agenda for the board to consider taking action.
“I thought the discussion the Board of Health had that night was good and full-throated. That’s where citizens with expertise can really participate,” she told the Telegraph Herald on Wednesday. “I don’t expect that proposal to come before us — not now.”
Board of Health Chairman Tom Bechen said it was up to the Board of Supervisors, but he, too, considered the lottery proposal finished.
“Unless something changes drastically, I don’t see the Board (of Health) addressing that issue again,” he said.
Furthermore, McDonough said big initiatives to increase the county’s vaccination rate now might be beyond the Board of Supervisors’ grasp.
“I would say that, for me, the broader discussion about what we can do to increase our vaccination rate is very much alive,” McDonough said. “But I wouldn’t expect that kind of big announcement from the Board of Supervisors. People just distrust what government is saying and maybe what our motives are. Clearly, this has been highly politicized. That’s just where we are as a community.”
McDonough said county officials are by no means washing their hands of pandemic relief.
“There’s certainly discussion with the county and industry leaders, community leaders, company heads about what we can do to continue to keep momentum in trying to get our vaccination rate up,” McDonough said.
County Supervisor Harley Pothoff said he thinks continued education is the main path forward for county government.
“We’re going to keep promoting (vaccination), but we can’t force people to do it,” he said. “Education is the biggest thing.”
Supervisor Jay Wickham said the county is currently in a good place, with few new COVID-19 cases and a higher vaccination rate than most Iowa counties. But he said the county supervisors would be ready to respond to any change.
“We do have backup from the federal government in (American Rescue Plan) funds if we do need to adjust — whether that is for the delta variant or anything else,” he said. “If we need to ramp up our testing, our vaccination, our education to prevent, we can do that.”
County Health Department Director Patrice Lambert said the incident management team would change direction in attempts to increase the vaccination rate.
“We’re trying to find out if people listen more to their local health care providers,” she said. “If there’s hesitance out there about getting a vaccine, would it be a benefit if their own medical providers provided information, if their physicians sent a letter to them?”
Lambert said the team also met again with officials from local higher education institutions and school districts to make sure the county was working with them the best they could.
The incident management team released ZIP-code-level data this week showing far lower vaccination rates in some of the county’s smaller cities — but also the ZIP code containing Dubuque’s North End and Sageville. That has led to some new localized strategies as well.
“The first time we pulled out the ZIP code data, the (Visiting Nurse Association) responded by going out to Farley two times, which went really well,” said county Assistant Health Director Samantha Kloft. “Now, New Vienna is having their health fair, so we will be there.”
Board of Health Vice Chairwoman Diane Pape-Freiburger, a career nurse, has been present at many of the remote vaccination events in the county.
“I’ve been working at all these vaccination events to get more people to get vaccinated, and that worked,” she said. “But I am very concerned. I know people who have tested positive this last week. This whole pandemic has been misinformation against evidence-based information. It’s tough.”
Lambert also said the incident management team was developing a plan to survey nonvaccinated residents about why they have not received a vaccine. The team then will build further education plans around those responses.