For a Fort McMurray First Nation, weekly draw for $1,000 was ticket to vaccination success


A northern Alberta First Nation says it has seen a jump in vaccination rates after introducing a draw for cash prizes.

Fort McMurray 468 First Nation has been hosting a weekly draw for a prize of $1,000 since mid-July. The draw was set up to encourage people to get vaccinated.(Facebook/Fort McMurray 468 First Nation)

A First Nation in northern Alberta has been running a vaccination incentive program that, unlike the province's vaccine lottery, has translated into a significant increase in first doses.

"The community has responded really well to it," said Samantha Whalen, a councillor with Fort McMurray 468 First Nation.

In mid-July, 38 per cent of the 221 adults living on-reserve had received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But those numbers started to increase after a prize winner's name was announced on Facebook each week. As of Tuesday, 76 per cent of adults living on-reserve have received at least one dose, said Whalen.

Fort McMurray 468 First Nation Coun. Samantha Whalen is seen after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. (Submitted by Megan Plews)

The "Don't hesitate, vaccinate" campaign for people living on- and off-reserve offered 10 draws for a $1,000 prize, Whalen said. With more prizes, the odds of winning were higher, so people signed up, she said.

"If their neighbour wins, or their friend, and they're kind of sitting on the fence, then they go in [and get vaccinated]," she said. "I don't think there's anybody out there that doesn't want some kind of a free prize."

She said the province should have done the same with its lottery, which offered three prizes of $1 million.

"Although $1 million is enticing and I even entered that draw, with the one chance of winning, I think what they should have done is they should have split it up," Whalen said.

"I'm not saying our format is the best format, but it keeps people on the edge of their seats."

Provincial lottery had limited success

Doctors in the province said Alberta's "Open for Summer" vaccine lottery had little effect on first-dose vaccine rates.

As of Wednesday, the percentage of Alberta's eligible population that has been vaccinated with at least a first dose still trails all other provinces and territories.

An analysis of Alberta Health daily vaccine data shows that there was an increase in first doses after the $3-million vaccine lottery was announced on June 12, with the announcement of travel prizes coming a few days later.

But by mid-July, when outdoor prizes were added to the lottery, first-dose vaccination numbers had largely plateaued.

Alberta opened up its $100 gift card registration website this week, the province's latest effort to incentivize people to get their first or second doses.

"We tried the lotteries. We saw an uptick. It helped a bit. And we're going to try this. And we don't know if it will work or not," Premier Jason Kenney said on Sept. 3.

'Built-in trust'

Staff at the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in Edmonton say their experience with vaccine incentives has been similar to that of Fort McMurray 468 First Nation.

Bent Arrow hosted a vaccine clinic in June and offered a smaller number of prizes like a PlayStation 5 console and an Oilers jersey featuring the name and number of player Ethan Bear.

Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society staff say incentives like an Ethan Bear Oilers jersey and gift cards drew people to its pop-up vaccine clinic.(Facebook/Bent Arrow)

"Absolutely, people came because of the prizes," said Vernon Boldick, promotions and communications co-ordinator with Bent Arrow, adding that there were several phone calls about the PS5.

But Boldick said many who received their vaccine felt comfortable because they knew Bent Arrow and its services.

"There was a built-in trust. And so that, along with those incentives, really allowed us to get more people in."

Fort McMurray 468 First Nation officials are hoping to entice more people to get a shot, with a target of having 91 per cent of its on-reserve adult population vaccinated, said Whalen.

She said they might extend the draws past Thursday in hopes of reaching that target.

"We want our community to return back to normal as soon as possible."

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