University awards $132,000 in vaccine incentive program

$132,000 and 880 participants later, university officials say the vaccine incentive program is working better than expected.


Kendall Little, Managing Editor

It’s been 31 days since the university’s vaccine incentive program began. Officials have spent $132,000 of the university’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) on incentivizing 880 students, faculty, and staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 according to Acting Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Larry Faerman.

Faerman says that the program, which began August 30, is fulfilling its purpose: to get more people vaccinated for $150 each.

The State University System of Florida, which is a system of 12 public universities in Florida, met to discuss how they planned to use federal COVID-19 relief funds as in-person classes resumed in August. Faerman said that incentive programs were deemed as a valid use of the funds by the SUS.

“Most, if not all, of the State University System leadership agreed that this was a good utilization of those resources, and that it was a proactive measure to attempt to vaccinate as many students as possible, which then would reduce spread,” he said.

Federal government officials allocated the university more than $22 million as part of the HEERF. Half of the money had to be distributed directly to students and the rest could be used to reimburse university organizations that lost money during the pandemic, according to government officials.

University officials had to use the second half of the funding to install COVID-19 safety measures such as plexiglass shields and cameras in classrooms for Zoom lectures, according to Faerman.

The incentive program funding came from the portion of the money set aside for university use.

MacDonald said that the university referenced what other schools within the SUS were offering as an incentive before deciding how much money they would offer to students.

“I told them that the other schools are doing around $150 gift cards. And so I think we kind of just went off of that and kind of just found a good number that would incentivize students to get it,” she said.

Faerman noted that the incentive amount was heavily influenced by what could be given to students without it being taxable. 

“The incentive is based upon what we can provide to people without it being considered a taxable benefit,” he said. “So if we exceeded that, then ultimately it would have to be reported as a taxable benefit.”

880 members of the FAU community have received an incentive reward of $150 since the program began on Aug. 30. Student Body Vice President Lily MacDonald says that she is pleased with the number and that it surpassed her expectations.

“I would have been happy with just 100 students or 200 students [taking part in the program] because I think anyone that we can get to get vaccinated is really helpful,” she said. 

Dr. Joanna Drowos, associate professor of integrated medical science at the university’s College of Medicine, says that vaccinations are crucial for public safety.

“Unvaccinated people are most at risk from infection with the COVID-19 Delta variant. They are more likely to suffer serious illness and require hospitalization when compared to symptoms experienced by individuals who are vaccinated,” she said. “Even younger, healthier adults without comorbidities are experiencing significant illness as a result of COVID-19 infection resulting from the Delta variant when they are unvaccinated.”

The incentive program was designed to vaccinate members of the FAU community as quickly as possible, according to Faerman.

“It’s in the university’s interests to get as many people vaccinated as possible by the middle part of the first semester,” he said. “Each of the mitigation strategies… has been to bring the pandemic to a close sooner rather than later. And so if we were to extend it on and on and on, then ultimately it doesn’t close that timeline, if you will, of hopefully fully coming out of the pandemic.”

Faerman says that the program could be rebooted next semester if university officials deem it necessary or beneficial.

Students that were fully vaccinated prior to the program’s announcement have told the UP that they wish they could be rewarded as well. 

MacDonald says that she is looking into a way to reward vaccinated students, but Faerman says it’s not in the university’s plans any time soon.

“It would probably be a lesser amount than the current initiatives since $150 is a lot of money. We’re looking at possibly either promo items or a smaller incentive amount,” she said.

Faerman says that MacDonald has asked him about a reward for vaccinated students, but that it’s not on the agenda.

“It’s an incentive program, so our hope was to move the needle and so I think when you think about the premise of why it was established, had there been a significant number of individuals coming to campus that were already vaccinated, the incentive program would have not been really necessary,” Faerman said.

Kendall Little is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information regarding this and other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @klittlewrites.