Alabama car dealership offers $ 100,000 in vaccine incentives after nearly dying from COVID
Shawn Esfahani was lying in a hospital bed about nine months ago, suffering from the effects of pneumonia and COVID-19.
His oxygen level has dropped to a dangerously low level.
“It was a matter of a few hours, to be honest with you, whether I could have lived or not,” Esfahani recalled of her stay at Thomas Hospital in Fairhope last December as the cases COVIDs were on the rise across the country.
The 58-year-old man, who has survived a heart attack since his late 30s but says he’s in good health, got through with his medical care. He was to be hospitalized for two months, but was able to be released within a week.
The heartbreaking experience looms large in Esfahani’s mind as he oversees perhaps Alabama’s most lucrative and compelling vaccine incentive program. It also comes at a time when COVID cases are on the rise again.
Esfahani, who runs his incentive program from a Daphne car dealership he owns, supports him with private money. But other programs, such as publicly funded ones, are coming under scrutiny. Fairhope on Monday became the latest city to offer a state-funded incentive program, but only after criticism was leveled at council members for spending taxpayer money.
“We’re happy to see other government agencies doing this, but we realize it’s a controversy for the state of Alabama,” Esfahani said.
Esfahani, owner and operator of the SEAM Automotive Group, disbursed $ 100,000 to support a 10-week raffle reserved for residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties.
The Stakes: If you get the jab, you could win $ 1,000.
The odds, in the first draw last Monday, were pretty solid: ten people, vaccinated after the announcement of the incentive program on July 29, won $ 1,000. Only 22 names were eligible for the draw.
“This initiative is really about helping our community and accelerating from a low percentage of vaccinations to a high percentage,” said Esfahani, whose automotive group operates four dealerships in Alabama and one in Georgia. The vaccine incentive is managed by Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, near Interstate 10.
The incentive program goes beyond a simple financial payment. Thomas Hospital also runs vaccination clinics at the car dealership. At a clinic Tuesday, nearly 100 people showed up for a jab. Those who have received a vaccine have also become eligible for the financial incentive draws which will take place from Monday to October 7.
The car dealership expects the odds to grow longer as the program continues.
Esfahani also wants to encourage his employees to get vaccinated, and he is hosting an educational seminar from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesday with Dr William Admire of Infirmary Health. The dealership will be closed so that employees can assemble in the showroom for the presentation.
“My goal is for at least 1,000 people to get vaccinated,” Esfahani said. “It’s a small elevator, but a pretty good elevator. In calculation alone, we will have saved the lives of 20 people. It’s good enough for us to be a part of it. “
Indeed, the verdict remains to be seen whether Espahani’s effort will attract crowds and be successful. The same can be said of the few select government agencies that use tax money to push reluctant Alabamians to get vaccinated.
The incentives go beyond local governments in Alabama. Universities, hospitals and some private companies organize internal vaccine incentives for their employees. At Infirmary Health – the largest hospital system in Mobile and Baldwin counties – a vaccine incentive of $ 100 led to an overall payout of $ 505,000 to employees. Over 65% of employees are vaccinated, and Infirmary Health CEO Mark Nix credits it to the incentive program.
Some statistics are coming in, but no analysis has been done on whether they are successful in increasing immunization rates. Sponsors of immunization programs believe their efforts are successful, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal.
Most of the programs are still in their infancy. This is the case in Gadsden, which is the first and only municipal government in Alabama to offer an incentive for all residents of the city to get vaccinated.
Deborah Gaither, director of emergency management for Gadsden-Etowah, told Gadsden city council this week that 256 participants have been added to the city’s $ 100 incentive program. The total number of participants since the start of the program at the end of last month is 460. It takes 500 residents participating in the program to trigger two draws of $ 5,000. The incentive program ends in October.
Etowah County’s vaccination rate is also increasing, albeit slowly since the program called “Vaccinate Gadsden” was rolled out on July 20. At the time, only 32% of residents of Etowah County had received a dose of the vaccine while 26.6% were fully immunized. As of Thursday, 39.5% of Etowah County residents had at least one dose, while only 27.5% were fully immunized, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Etowah County’s vaccination rate has increased over the past few weeks and from the city’s perspective it is encouraging to see more of our citizens getting vaccinated,” said Michael Rodgers. , spokesperson for the city. “The Vaccinate Gadsden program has provided an additional incentive which we believe is contributing to this positive trend. “
“Impact on the workforce”
In the hard-hit Gulf Coast of Alabama, where hospitals in Mobile and Baldwin counties are overwhelmed daily by hundreds of COVID patients, vaccine incentives are receiving mixed reviews.
Fairhope last Monday night became the latest entity to support a vaccination incentive after city council voted 4-1 to roll out a $ 500 reward to all full-time employees who get vaccinated. Of the city’s 350 employees, only 25% are fully vaccinated.
The city has been criticized by some for using tax money to entice the unvaccinated. The money does not come from the Town of Fairhope budget, but it is still taxpayer money that is allocated through the Town’s $ 1.9 million portion of the American Rescue Plan Act. . The Fairhope incentive will cost around $ 300,000.
“For us, of course, I thought it would impact our workforce,” said Fairhope Mayor Sherry Sullivan. The program will last until November.
“But each city has to assess this and determine for itself,” she added.
Mobile never even debated whether their ARP money allocation should be used to incentivize vaccines. Mobile County has seen an average of more than 600 new cases of COVID-19 per day last week, and it also struggles with a low vaccination rate: only 32% of residents have been fully vaccinated, with more than 43 % receiving at least one dose, according to CDC data. These numbers are lower than the state average of 35% fully vaccinated, the lowest in the country.
James Barber, chief of staff to Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, said on Tuesday he didn’t think a vaccination incentive would work.
“We looked to see if they moved the needle,” Barber said of incentive programs elsewhere. “But what really helps are the peer-to-peer conversations. People are pretty determined whether or not they will take the vaccine or not. “
Mobile County health worker Dr Bernard Eichold said he believed the incentives could help.
“If we can use this money to get people to get vaccinated, we should use all the tools in the toolkit to get people vaccinated,” Eichold said. Vaccinations, he said, “are the only way to inhibit community transmission of the virus.”
Mobile City Council, which approved a one-time bonus for city employees – $ 5,000 for all full-time workers – did not tie any of that money to vaccine status. According to Mobile city councilor Joel Daves, chairman of the city’s finance committee, the issue of a vaccine incentive was never raised during discussions over ARP money.
Experts are skeptical of the effectiveness of vaccine incentives, including Dr Kevin Schulman, professor of medicine and economics at Stanford University School of Medicine and Graduate School of Business. Schulman, in an interview with ABC News last month, said he believes a “small proportion” responds to incentives, and has favored more coordinated marketing programs backed by state governments targeting apathetic Americans. .
Schulman, in comments to AL.com, said he believed the tragedy of the recent wave of the virus spreading among unvaccinated Americans was that there had not been a comprehensive marketing approach to promote the vaccine.
“Some, but not all of the unvaccinated, are really hesitant,” Schulman said. “Some, even at this late date, have not cognitively made a decision to purchase the vaccine. There is still time to support the population we call apathetic … in making the decision to get vaccinated. “
Schulman wrote about the hesitant vaccine in the Journal of the Medical Association, citing a February Pew Research Center study that showed that 30% (3,306 people) of American adults indicated that they probably would not or certainly not vaccinated. But another 42% cited “I don’t think I need it” as a major reason behind their decision, according to the report.
He believes there is more to be done locally from a marketing standpoint. He also believes survivors, who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, should help deliver a “powerful local message.”
Schulman said the incentives could also help if they are tailored to the right populations.
Esfahani hopes this will be the case at Eastern Shore Toyota. Lives, he says, are at stake.
“I had a feeling this delta variant would hit us hard and that’s what happened,” said Esfahani. “We are in a critical situation.