State DPH offers $75 gift cards for COVID shots in Vaccine Equity Initiative –

Alice Loua receives her first COVID-19 vaccine Saturday morning at Lorraine's Soup Kitchen and Pantry Covid clinic. Her young son, James, received his first shot as well.
After two years of encouraging Massachusetts residents to get vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus and its variants, the state Department of Public Health is upping its game and offering $75 gift cards to residents accepting a COVID booster, or in some cases getting their very first vaccine.
The DPH, working with Behavioral Health Network launched its latest clinic at Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and Pantry on Pendexter Avenue in Chicopee Saturday morning. A second clinic with gift cards will be held on December 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Council on Aging’s Holiday Dinner, at 5 West Main Street.
Called the Vaccine Equity Initiative, the DPH is putting special emphasis on those communities where vaccine and booster rates are lowest. While Massachusetts has the highest rate of vaccination in the nation, now 84 percent, the DPH is continuing to seek ways to increase vaccination rates for Commonwealth residents. At Saturday’s clinic, that meant handing out $75 gift cards to Walmart, Stop and Shop or Cumberland Farms at anyone receiving a vaccine or booster. Recipients could choose which gift cards they received.
“We would like to see as many people vaccinated as possible,” DPH Commissioner Margaret Cooke said. “These boosters have been proven safe and effective for adults and children. If you have been thinking about getting the vaccine, now is the time.”
During its first hour Saturday, BHN nurses Cheryl Messer-Lusty and Karin Fushey administered 30 boosters and two primary vaccines.
Messer-Lusty, who is the interim program director for BHN’s Vaccine Equity Clinics, said the DPH contacted BHN to provide the services for both the first two primary vaccines, called monovalent, and the subsequent booster shots, called bivalent. BHN currently offers just the Moderna-manufactured vaccine and booster.
“The state is trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible because the more we get, the less chance there is of spreading,” she said.
Among the 30 or so who showed up early at the Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and Pantry clinic were Alice Loua and her 4-year-old son, James. Neither had been vaccinated before Saturday.
“I had real concerns about it,” Alice said of the COVID vaccine. “But my (older) son is an actor and he had to get vaccinated to be in a play and he loves acting and asked me to let him get it. He is doing well, so I thought, ‘If my child already has it, I am just going to join in and just go with it as well.’”
Loua said she still is concerned about possible consequences. She said she felt the vaccine was trotted out too quickly after the pandemic started. But, she said, her whole family is vaccinated.
Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen and Pantry Board President Donna Marratta said when they were contacted by the state DPH to host the clinic, they felt they had the perfect location.
“We were able to pick the time and we chose Saturday from 10 to 2 p.m. so it would be convenient for people who work,” Marratta said. “Sometimes you can’t get an appointment with your doctor and when you do its during the day or the evening, so I felt it was important to have it on a Saturday during hours that are most convenient for most people.”
The DPH clinics are offered free of charge to the general public. No identification or proof of insurance is necessary. A complete list of clinics offering incentives such as gift cards is available at
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