A 'little nudge' to the vaccine-hesitant — free beer at a Whitehorse bar

Yukon's COVID-19 vaccination rate is still slowly climbing but one Whitehorse business is hoping to speed things up a bit, with some cold beer.

'We thought, let's give a little more carrot, a little less stick,' said Kai Miller of Polarity Brewing

A Whitehorse bar launched a promotion this week, to encourage more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Anybody who gets their first shot can then pop by the bar for a free beer. (Associated Press)

Yukon's COVID-19 vaccination rate is still slowly climbing, but one Whitehorse business is hoping to speed things up a bit — with free beer.

"There's a lot of discussion online about, particularly, younger people being [vaccine] hesitant, not seeing much of a benefit," said Eric Miller, who with his brother runs Polarity Brewing, a restaurant and brewpub in Whitehorse.

"We figured, why not just give them a little nudge over the line?" 

The young entrepreneurs — who opened their bar last year — have launched a promotion this week where anybody who gets their first jab can then drop by the bar that day or the next with their immunization card and enjoy a draft, on the house.

The catch is that the customer must also order food. The bar can't just hand out free beer, so instead the price of a draft will be knocked off the total bill.

"If you guys can make this cost us a lot of money, we'll be thrilled," said Eric's brother Kai Miller, Polarity's brewer. 

'At a certain point, earnest public health advice and scolding and peer pressure is only going to reach so many people,' said Kai Miller, left, seen here with his brother and business partner, Eric. (George Maratos/CBC)

The Millers describe themselves as "nerdy" and say they've been closely watching the Yukon government's online vaccine tracker. They've noticed that the rate of vaccine uptake has slowed in recent weeks — something that's also been noticed by territorial health officials.

"At a certain point, earnest public health advice and scolding and peer pressure is only going to reach so many people," Kai said.

"So we thought, let's give a little more carrot, a little less stick — and see if we can get those numbers where we want them."

It's a concept that's being tried elsewhere, as vaccination efforts move into a new phase of reaching those considered less vulnerable, or who have been less eager to get the shot. In the U.S., incentives have included beer, pot, doughnuts, saving bonds, or money toward an ATV, while a Quebec business has been offering employees a $25 bonus for getting vaccinated.

A 'Joints for Jabs' event in New York earlier this month, where adults who showed their COVID-19 vaccination cards received a free joint. Places around the U.S. are offering incentives to try to energize the nation’s slowing vaccination drive and get reluctant Americans to roll up their sleeves. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

The first day of the Polarity promotion was not a busy one, with just a couple of people coming in to claim their refreshment. But there's been a lot of reaction on social media, the Millers say.

"I mean, we're talking about beer, we're talking about vaccines, there's going to be some haters. We don't let it get us down," Kai said. 

Yukon not at herd immunity yet

As of Monday, 72 per cent of Yukon's eligible population had received their first shot of the Moderna vaccine, while 63 per cent had also received their second shot. 

Health officials had said earlier this year that their goal to reach so-called "herd immunity" was for at least 75 per cent of eligible adults to be fully vaccinated.

But earlier this week, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said "there is no one number that we know of for herd immunity."

"For the time being, the answer is, the more [vaccinated], the better," Hanley said.

Right now, health officials say the vaccination rate is still much higher among older Yukoners, compared to those in younger age groups. Hanley said ideally, that will change.

"Seventy-five per cent uptake would be best if it were even across all age groups," he said.

Yukon's COVID-19 vaccine tracker is updated weekly. As of Monday, 72 per cent of eligible adults in the territory had received their first shot, and 63 per cent had received their second. Health officials say the rate of vaccination is still lower among younger adults. (Government of Yukon)

The Millers hope some free craft beer will help nudge things along, toward a return to "normalcy."

"The COVID public health restrictions, we absolutely understand that they're keeping us safe right now. But I think the business community has been quite clear about the fact that they are costing us money," Eric said.

"So I think it's in everybody's interest to see more people get vaccinated ... and you know, we have beer on hand to give people. So why not use that power and privilege to help our community?"

The Millers also looked into whether it's advisable to drink alcohol after an immunization shot. They say a beer likely won't help anybody who's experiencing unpleasant side effects — but for others, they say, it likely won't hurt.

"As long as you stick to one drink or two," Kai said. 

With files from George Maratos


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