ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota will offer $200 gift cards and a shot at five $100,000 scholarships as incentives for students ages 12-17 to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday.
Young people who start and complete their vaccine series over the next six weeks will be eligible for the Visa gift cards. But all Minnesotans ages 12-17 who've completed their vaccine series anytime by mid-December are eligible for the scholarships, which will be good at any public or private nonprofit school in the state. The five drawings will be conducted weekly starting Nov. 15.
“We’re launching this program to help reward teens for doing their part by getting fully vaccinated and keeping our schools, community, and state safe,” Walz said in a statement.
Registration opens Nov. 9 on the state's Give Kids a Shot website.
The state is trying to drive up vaccination rates among adolescents, who are the state's least-vaccinated but eligible age group. Only 50% of Minnesotans ages 12-15 and fewer than 60% of those ages 16-17 are fully vaccinated. But the coronavirus is spreading fastest in Minnesota among young people. The federal government is preparing to authorize vaccines for children as young as 5.
Walz authorized $12.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for the incentive program.
An earlier incentive program that offered adults $100 Visa gift cards drew nearly 80,000 takers, including more than 3,000 who got their shots at the Minnesota State Fair.
Meanwhile, Minnesota colleges are reporting fewer COVID-19 cases on their campuses this semester than they did last fall, suggesting that high vaccination rates in their communities are helping stave off outbreaks, the Star Tribune reported.
The Minnesota State system’s 30 community colleges and seven universities collectively tallied 866 total positive student cases between Sept. 1-Oct. 6, which was significantly fewer than the more than 1,200 cases reported during the same span last year. The University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus reported 111 total cases among students and employees in September, or about 10% fewer than last fall, when fewer students were on campus.
“It just speaks to the power of if you get enough people vaccinated, you really can reduce transmission substantially,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the university's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.