Credit: Brian Krans

Thursday was “family day” at Fremont High School in East Oakland, but instead of the normal fare of games and presentations, students, parents, and others lined up between rows of orange cones and yellow tape in the gymnasium to get their shot of either the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Just outside the gym, two young people got their mother’s consent over the phone to receive their first dose. 

And when many of the people return to the high school in three weeks for their second Pfizer doses, they’ll have some money coming their way.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday the state’s new vaccine lottery system in which the next two million Californians who get their shots will receive $50 gift cards. 

In addition, every California resident who has received at least one dose since the beginning of the pandemic—with a few exceptions, including being incarcerated—is automatically entered to win part of the state’s pledged $116.5 million in awards. 

California’s new “Vax for the Win” program includes prizes of up to $50,000 in cash for fifteen people. Winners will be announced on June 4 and again on June 11. Ten very lucky vaccinated Californians will win a grand prize of $1.5 million on June 15, the date Newsom has pegged for the state to fully reopen.

At Fremont High, dozens of people had made their way through the lines by 5:30 p.m. The school is now the largest fixed vaccine site operated by the Alameda County Public Health Department. The site’s new hours on Thursdays—3 to 7 p.m.—were adjusted to accommodate working people, namely those with children. 

“It allows people to pick up their kids and get vaccinated,” said Neetu Balram, spokesperson for the county health department. “You have to lower as many barriers as possible.”

There’s an array of reasons why some people haven’t gotten vaccinated yet. Many of them haven’t been able to fit getting a shot into their schedule. That’s why the county is now doing “family days” at places like Fremont High, offering Pfizer vaccines—which can be given to children as young as 12—from 3 to 7 p.m. These hours give people more flexibility to get their shots.

Also on Thursday, the county set up a first-time vaccination clinic at the Coliseum BART station. And from 12 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Kaiser Permanente and True Vine Ministries will be vaccinating people on the eastside of Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland.

These approaches are part of a strategy that’s been dubbed “radical convenience”: smaller, more intimate vaccine sites with workers who speak the language of, and are closer to, those getting their shots. 

Dr. Kathleen Clanon, medical director of Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, said there’s still a group of people—and county health officials don’t know how big it is—who will only get vaccinated if the timing and side effects don’t interfere with their ability to make a living. “And that’s hard to argue with,” she told the county’s vaccine advisory committee last week. 

More than 77% of Alameda County residents 16 and older have already received at least one COVID-19 shot. More than 62% of county residents are fully vaccinated, meaning there’s almost no risk that they’ll be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.

Statewide, more than half of all Californians are fully vaccinated. But, as Newsom pointed out, getting the first 30% of the state vaccinated was the easy part. Getting 70% and more of the population vaccinated will be “even more challenging still,” the governor said. 

Experts say the tricky part of community immunity (also called herd immunity) is that we don’t know what percentage of the population needs their shots until we pass that mark. “There is no magic number,” Newsom said. 

On Thursday, 163,000 Californians received a COVID-19 vaccine, but about two-thirds of them were second doses. That’s a sharp decrease in the 2 million people at the peak just two weeks ago. 

The strategy of paying people to get vaccinated is also quite simple. At Fremont High, each dose takes about 30 minutes per trip, so those getting Pfizer shots will be reimbursed at a rate of $50 for about an hour of their time. People can make the same amount of money in half the time by getting the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine. 

Fremont High and most other vaccine sites around the county have little wait times and are capable of welcoming in hundreds of people without an appointment. That, as Balram described, is helping “eke out that next 1%” of people getting vaccinated locally. 

But the process of getting paid wasn’t immediately clear at Fremont High on Thursday. The news of financial incentives was so fresh that details of the process hadn’t been worked out. 

“What about those of us who already got our shots?” one worker in a yellow vest asked when told about the new payments. He was quickly reassured when learning he and nine other California residents over the age of 12 with at least one vaccine dose could be millionaires by July.

Everyone who has gotten a vaccine is automatically entered into the drawing. As for the gift cards, the state plans to text or email people when they’re fully vaccinated.

“We’re happy to see the state provide resources to incentivize people to get vaccinated before June 15,” Balram said.