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Free beer and club passes can help drive up vaccination rates in young adults, expert says logo 5/6/2021 Katie Kausch,

A shot and a beer is a regular promotion at bars and now it’s being offered as a new way to approach public health — but it’s one that can help motivate young people to receive their coronavirus vaccines, one public health expert said.

Instead of a shot of liquor, some New Jersey residents who get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine are eligible to receive a free beer, part of a state plan to raise rates of vaccination amongst younger people.

“There is evidence that people would rather be rewarded in some way for getting the vaccine than being required to get the vaccine— they want to feel like they have a choice,” Dr. Stephanie Silveras, an epidemiologist and public health professor at Montclair State University, said.

The promotion is open to residents 21 and older who receive their first shot by May 31 by showing their vaccination card at one of 34 participating breweries around the state.

Emmanuel Koonjan, a 29-year-old from Woodbridge, is one of those young people the state has been trying to reach. Koonjan told NJ Advance Media he has held off on getting the vaccine because he was skeptical, but hearing about the shot and a beer program tipped his hand. He said if vaccines ever become mandatory, he’d rather get it now with the incentive attached.

“I probably wouldn’t have gotten it but the (promotion) is nice,” he said. “But why not now that there’s something tied to it?”

Koonjan, who said he was healthy, hadn’t yet made his appointment as of Wednesday morning, but perked up when he heard about the promotion being run by D’Jais, a popular Jersey Shore nightclub.

Those 21 and over who receive their vaccination at a pop-up site hosted at the club May 12 will be gifted a VIP pass for the summer.

“Oh that’s even better, I’m going to go there! That’s perfect,” he said.

Just 11% of shots administered in New Jersey have gone to those between 18 and 29 as of Wednesday, state data shows. It’s unclear what percent of people within that age group are fully vaccinated, and how many have received no shots at all. New Jersey opened up eligibility to all residents over age 16 on April 19.

By offering things like beers and VIP nightclub passes, health officials are meeting young people where they are, Silveras said. Many younger people don’t feel endangered by the virus, which has killed older residents at a much higher rate, and might not have the same sense of urgency to be vaccinated as a result, she said.

And although people aged 18-29 account for just 0.38% of coronavirus deaths in New Jersey, they have consistently high rates of transmission, making vaccination efforts in that group all the more important, Silveras said.

“If getting them access to a club that they like down the shore is what gets them to be vaccinated. I say we roll with it,” Silveras said.

Alcohol isn’t the only motivator for young people. Across the Hudson, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has partnered with the Mets and the Yankees, offering free baseball tickets to any fan who gets vaccinated at a stadium. And Krispy Kreme is offering a free doughnut per day for the rest of the year to all vaccinated individuals.

For others, the allure of no longer having to wear masks is their driving factor to get vaccinated, Silveras said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated people can go maskless indoors with other vaccinated people, and outside so long as it’s not in a large crowd. (The outdoor mask mandate remains in effect in New Jersey when social distancing is not possible.)

“I think we’re going to have to start getting really creative, to figure out what’s going to be the trigger that gets people out and willing to get that shot,” Silveras said.

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