Sun Country Airlines on Wednesday announced a new COVID-19 vaccine incentive — weekly drawings for $500 travel vouchers to people who get their shots in July at a pop-up clinic outside airport security at Terminal 2 of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The incentive underscores the desire among Minnesota health officials to increase the immunization rate even after the state reaches a federal goal of providing COVID-19 vaccine to 70% of adults by Sunday.
Minnesota's rate in that age group was 69.9%, according to an update Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"With more than 3 million Minnesotans vaccinated, we've made great progress as a state, and we want to build on that success by providing a chance to get back to traveling — safely," Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement regarding the incentive.
While Minnesota ranks 20th among U.S. states in its first-dose vaccination rate of eligible people 12 or older, the number of people getting shots has stagnated. The seven-day average of new recipients has fallen below 3,500 per day, despite a monthlong incentive program by which 100,000 recipients could receive $25 Visa gift cards or passes to Valleyfair or other attractions.
Only 16,479 people had signed up by Wednesday afternoon, though they had until the end of the day to do so.
Other states had tried lotteries for cash or larger prizes to boost vaccinations against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The new Sun Country offer includes a voucher to cover the cost of short-term parking at the terminal vaccine site. A pop-up vaccine site also is available at Terminal 1, but it is inside airport security for travelers.
Minnesota has reported 605,365 infections and 7,594 COVID-19 deaths in the pandemic, including 81 infections and seven deaths reported Wednesday. Health officials said they believe vaccination progress shortened a spring pandemic wave, but they want to get the state's immunization rate beyond 70% to reduce virus spread or the formation of new variants that could be more infectious or severe.
Federal recommendations haven't changed, despite a pause in May in the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of a few reports of severe blood clots, and a review last week of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines after more than 300 reports of heart inflammation.
Federal officials concluded that the rate of heart inflammation wasn't larger in the vaccinated population than it was in the general population, and that the vaccine's benefits outweighed the risks.
Even rare side effects have contributed to hesitancy over the vaccines, though, particularly among younger recipients. The vaccination rate among recipients ages 12 to 15 raced to 25% in the first two weeks in May in which they became eligible. However, that rate had increased only to 36% at the end of June.
Positive vaccine news was announced Tuesday by nference, a data partner with Mayo Clinic, which analyzed health records of 68,000 people who received two-dose vaccines and an equivalent number of unvaccinated people.
One study found vaccinated people made more clinic visits for mild muscle soreness and fatigue, but they didn't suffer higher rates of severe illnesses. The other study compared infection rates in the two populations and found the Pfizer vaccine was 86% effective at preventing infection and the Moderna vaccine was 93% effective. While some vaccinated Mayo patients needed hospital care for breakthrough COVID-19 illness, none in the study required intensive care.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744