Another perk of getting COVID shot: Some MN businesses offer incentives for vaccinations

A man behind a cash register talks to a customer.
Lisa Riedl said she was pleasantly surprised when Brianno’s Deli Italia owner George Maverick told her he was giving people who been vaccinated a 10 percent discount.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Lisa Riedl was pleasantly surprised when she stopped by Brianno’s Deli Italia in Eagan recently to pick up some pizzas and other stuff.

“We have a 10 percent discount for people who took their vaccine,” said owner George Maverick as he rang up Riedl’s purchases.

Riedl, it turns out, had been vaccinated the week before.

A man in a mask smiles inside a deli.
Brianno’s Deli Italia owner George Maverick is offering vaccine incentives.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“You’re a VIP now,” Maverick said smiling as he entered the discount.

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Unlike some people who are hesitant or who refuse vaccination, Riedl had been thrilled to get the shot.

“I’m happy that this seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Riedl said.

So why is a deli and events center owner who’s lost a half-million dollars over the last year because of COVID-19 restrictions handing out money in the name on public health?

A sign outlining vaccine incentives.
A sign on the wall at Brianno’s Deli Italia outlines the vaccine incentives.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“Well, I see there’s so much reluctance and I want everybody to really think about it,” Maverick said. “If somebody’s on the fence I’m hoping I can nudge them on the side of the vaccine because we were closed to give science time to come up with an answer. An answer is here, so I’m so excited.”

And Maverick has an even bigger enticement for his 14 employees — they each get $100 if they get vaccinated.

“I have to tread carefully with the topic,” Maverick said. “I can show them I did it and I say, ‘Hey, I’ll put this money on the table if you’re willing to do it.’ ”

Maverick’s events manager Cathy Coffey got the money, a nice bonus, she said, even though she planned on getting vaccinated before the incentive was offered.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Coffey said. “I think it opens people’s mind to actually going ahead. I think that people think about it, but they don’t actually go forward.”

A woman in a mask holds a $100 bill.
Cathy Coffey is one of George Maverick's employees who got the vaccine money.
Courtesy of Brianno’s Deli Italia

Maverick said some of his other employees told him to keep his money. They don’t want the coronavirus vaccine.

A CBS News poll published earlier this week found most Americans have been vaccinated or plan to be. But it also indicated 44 percent say they don’t know if they’ll get it or they have decided not to get it.

Dr. Keith Stelter, a Mankato family practice physician and the immediate past president of the Minnesota Medical Association, said he welcomes any efforts business make to promote vaccination.

“We want to do everything we can to encourage people to get the vaccine because it is important to get to that herd immunity point in our society,” Stelter said.

Herd immunity is achieved when a large enough percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.

Minnesota employment law attorney Susan Ellingstad, a partner in Lockridge, Grindal and Nauen, said she thinks as vaccines become more available and employers begin bringing people back to conventional workspaces, many will require their employees to get inoculated against the coronavirus. They're within their rights to do so as long as they have opt-out provisions for religious objections and health concerns. 

But she said most have historically been hesitant to make such demands — think annual flu shots, for example.

“This health crisis that we’re in warrants maybe being less conservative than traditionally an employer would do, not wanting to push employees in that direction,” Ellingstad said. “The public health crisis and trying to end this crisis is something that is unprecedented, and I think it should weigh into that decision.”

Ellingstad said if employers can convince a large enough percentage of their workforces to voluntarily get vaccinated, they might not have to mandate shots. She said it’s an issue many will soon grapple with.