It’s a campaign that feels like a booze-fueled party waiting at the finish line of a marathon: If the United States reaches President Biden’s vaccination goal by the Fourth of July, Anheuser-Busch will buy adults a round of beer.
The campaign was announced the same day the White House declared June a “national month of action” to get more Americans vaccinated ahead of next month’s holiday. In a speech Wednesday, Biden pleaded with Americans to get their shots, hoping to reach “the 70 percent mark so we can declare independence from covid-19 and free ourselves from the grip it has held over our lives.” The continued efforts to get more shots in arms has taken on increased urgency as the vaccination pace wanes across the country and as state and local leaders ease pandemic-era restrictions.
“We’re at a moment where every extra arm we need to vaccinate is a heavier lift,” said Alison M. Buttenheim, a behavioral scientist at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing who studies vaccine acceptance. “A much higher proportion of people left to be vaccinated have some barrier — hesitancy, access, logistics. It just means vaccinating the next million people is going to be so much harder than the first 50 million.”
That’s where an onslaught of incentive campaigns comes in.
In recent weeks, giveaways and programs meant to push Americans to get their shots have ramped up. States are giving away $100 savings bonds, million-dollar prizes and lottery prizes that have received both national acclaim and some criticism. Then, there’s all the beer — New Jersey announced a “Shot and a Beer” program. D.C. launched a similar drive.
Biden referenced Anheuser-Busch’s new campaign Wednesday as part of an array of incentives meant to boost vaccinations.
“That’s right. Get a shot and have a beer,” Biden said. “Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus.”
But first, the United States needs to reach that milestone.
Half of the nation’s population has now received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, and the United States still must immunize about 20 million more adults to reach that goal. Following a mid-April peak average of about 3.3 million doses per day nationwide, the average number of daily doses has fallen more than 63 percent, to an average Tuesday of about 1.2 million doses.
Cesar Vargas, Anheuser-Busch’s chief external-affairs officer, said the company wanted to encourage vaccinations for those who haven’t received one yet, “because that’s one big part of how we can all get back together.”
“Whether that’s reuniting at local neighborhood bars and restaurants, getting together at a ballgame or getting together in your backyard over a barbecue, we want people to start getting back together again,” Vargas said in an interview.
“Let’s get ready for a summer like no other,” says a new company ad about the campaign. “Let’s get ready for the greatest time in history to grab a beer.”
The giveaway from Anheuser-Busch will begin when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines that the United States has reached that 70 percent goal and will end seven days later, according to the company. Adults 21 and older will be able to get a $5 virtual debit card that can be used to buy one Anheuser-Busch product, including beers, seltzers and nonalcoholic products.
Buttenheim said it’s hard for a single incentive idea such as Anheuser-Busch’s to be effective at a scale as large as vaccinating much of the nation.
“Individuals don’t feel like their decision is really going to help get to that goal — even if they like free beer,” she said. “They may say, ‘I’m not vaccinated, and my vaccination is just a drop in the bucket.’”
Still, she said, the campaign hits “all the right notes for trying to make this a collective goal we all work for.”
Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, called the company’s effort “striking in its collective approach.”
“All of a sudden we go from thinking about the vaccine as something we do just on our own to something we think about as all of us together,” Calkins said.
It may also give people an excuse to ask their friends or family whether they’ve gotten their shot, he added.
“You can encourage your friends to get a vaccine because you’re worried about their health — that’s important,” he said. “But it’s almost more fun to encourage them to get a vaccine because then we can all get free beer. It changes the discussion and makes it light and fun.”
Biden said during his remarks that a dozen states had already reached the milestone of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated. He sought to remind people how their individual efforts can help a broader goal.
“Each of you has the power to help us gain this freedom as a nation,” he said. “If you get a shot this week, you can be fully vaccinated by July Fourth, by the week of July the 4th, and you can celebrate Independence Day free from fear or worry.”