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To get more people vaccinated, Onondaga County offers free food, drinks


Onondaga County hopes the lure of free food and drink will compel people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Central New York, like much of the rest of the nation, has hit a plateau when it comes to COVID vaccinations.

A couple of months ago, computer sites were crashing because so many people were trying to snag vaccination appointments. Now, governments across the country are giving things away trying to get people to come in for a shot. Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta, said so far, 220,000 people in the county have been vaccinated, but interest is waning; especially among a particular demographic.

"The younger population, below 50 years of age, they are mobile, they are in the active workforce, they love to enjoy life, we are asking them to get the facts and consider getting the vaccine," Gupta said.

Getting the facts out there that the vaccine is safe and stops hospitalizations and deaths from COVID is key, Gupta said. But to sweeten the request so to speak, she said a little incentive can also help. County Executive Ryan McMahon said the county will kick off its version of an incentive plan; anyone who gets a vaccine at a county-run clinic during a one-week period starting on May 14, will get a coupon book, offering free food or drinks from 18 local restaurants.

"It is like a pub crawl,” McMahon said. “There’s plenty of opportunities to get a cup of coffee, to get an appetizer, to get drinks."

A pop-up vaccination site at Onondaga Lake Park will kick off the program Friday, but there will be other clinics offering shots and the coupon book. McMahon said this shows how desperate officials are to end the pandemic.

"We have to get the attention of some of these folks who haven’t done it," McMahon said. "My counterpart in Erie County, Marc Poloncarz, did a draft beer over the weekend. That worked out well. And we’re not stealing his ideas, we’re modifying his idea with some of our own ideas, and hopefully it will work out in Onondaga County.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.