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Alabama turns to college football to boost vaccinations

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is trying to harness the state’s love of college football to boost COVID-19 vaccinations, with a new initiative that will offer shots at college gamedays and give away $75 gift cards for university bookstores to the newly vaccinated.

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Thursday announced the KICK COVID campaign that will include vaccination and testing sites at select games, player appearances in promotions, and the gift card giveaway to promote the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We all know about our love of football here in the state of Alabama,” said Gene Hallman, president and co-owner of the Bruno Event Team, a sports event management company partnering on the program.

“We view the central aspect of this program as being college football and the players themselves — speaking in their own authentic sincere voices — asking their fans and fellow students to please go and get that vaccine.”

State Health Dr. Officer Scott Harris said he is hopeful it can boost vaccination uptake in a state where college football games are a major event in people’s weekends. Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, ranking at the bottom among states for the percentage of people fully vaccinated and in the bottom ten for the percentage of people who are partially vaccinated.

“I think this is something that probably might not work in every state in the union, but in the South, particularly in Alabama where college football is such an important part of everyone’s life… I think we have a really good opportunity to make this a very successful program.”

Hallman said the $75 gift card to campus bookstores is a way of saying “thank you” to the newly vaccinated. The program is the state’s first monetary reward for vaccinations, although local areas and universities have already offered such freebies.

The KICK COVID vaccination sites and giveaways will be held during select college gamedays during September and October. The program will be at both the University of Alabama and Auburn University games on Sept. 25.

People can get the $75 gift card to the campus bookstore by getting vaccinated at the KICK COVID vaccination site at their team’s selected gameday or by getting the first dose two weeks ahead of the game and uploading their vaccine card to the KICK COVID site. Only vaccinations started within 14 days of the select gameday are eligible.

Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health is using revenue streams from several sources to fund the program.

This is not the first-time football has been harnessed as a tool to urge vaccinations.

Alabama football coach Nick Saban and other sports figures taped a public service announcement earlier this year encouraging Alabamians to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“College football fans and players both want full stadiums this fall. Let’s make sure we can safely make this happen by getting vaccinated. Please get your COVID-19 vaccine,” Saban says in the spot. “We want Bryant-Denny Stadium loud again this coming season and Roll Tide!”
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