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United Airlines offers vaccinated shots at free travel

CBS News logo CBS News 5/25/2021 Kate Gibson
a large airplane flying high up in the air: Trump Restricts Travel From Europe Over Coronavirus Fears © / Getty Images Trump Restricts Travel From Europe Over Coronavirus Fears

United Airlines is offering vaccinated customers a shot at winning free travel as the carrier joins a national effort to get more Americans immunized against COVID-19 and derail a pandemic behind the deaths of nearly 590,000 Americans. 

New or existing members of United's MileagePlus loyalty program who upload their vaccination records to United airline's mobile app by June 22 can be entered to win free flights for a year's worth of travel, the Chicago-based company announced on Monday.

Word of the sweepstakes was well received, with more than 200,000 people uploading their vaccine cards and another 100,000 signing up to become members of United's customer loyalty program on the day of the announcement, United CEO Scott Kirby said in an investor conference on Tuesday.

"We're proud to do our part to incentivize people to get their shot," Kirby stated in a news release. "Thanks to the vaccine, more and more destinations are opening up for travel – and we know our customers are eager to fly."

United is giving away 30 pairs of roundtrip flights for two in first class or any other class to any destination it has flights to during the month of June, according to the airline, which is launching new routes to Croatia, Greece and Iceland, and plans to resume flights to Italy, Portugal, Spain and France this summer.

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Additionally, United on July 1 will announce five randomly selected grand prize winners of a full year of travel for themselves and a companion. 

Beyond entering the airline's sweepstakes, passengers who upload their vaccine records with United will save time at the airport and also know they're ready to fly to places where showing poof of vaccination is required, the airline stated. 

To help boost slowing vaccination rates, companies and states have been devising incentives to encourage people to get immunized. Target this month began offering $5 coupons to those getting vaccinated at CVS pharmacies inside its stores nationwide, while Ohio last week reported a spike in the count of those getting vaccinated after its governor said the state would award $1 million to five vaccinated residents. Donuts and weed are also among the many corporate freebies on offer to vaccinated adults.

President Joe Biden recently set a goal of having 70% of the population receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by July 1. That target could be hard to reach amid hesitancy by a sizable chunk of the population.

Public health experts disagree on precisely how much of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated to halt the spread of COVID-19 and reach what the medical field calls herd immunity. Most estimates range from 70% to 85%

CBS News producer Kathryn Krupnik contributed to this report.

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