ST. PAUL — Minnesota will start offering free fishing licenses, passes to state parks and tickets to fairs and amusement parks as part of its latest push to convince Minnesotans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday, May 27.

Ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, the governor said the state would start offering the incentives to coax people to get a shot if they haven't already. The move comes as the state reported 64% of adults 16 and older had received one dose of the vaccine.

Walz earlier this year set a July 1 target for getting 70% of Minnesotans 16 and older vaccinated against the illness. And in an attempt to hit that goal, the governor said 100,000 Minnesotans would be eligible for the giveaways if they get vaccinated before the end of June.

"Our purpose is really clear on this: to enjoy those things this summer, we need to get vaccinated," Walz said. "Minnesotans, we're really close on this, we're trying to push down toward the end."

Minnesota's professional sports teams had already started vaccination drives at their games and offered free tickets to fans who got a shot while at the ballpark or stadium. And other states had turned to high-dollar offerings, including a $1 million lottery in Ohio.

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The Biden administration this week said it would free up American Rescue Plan funds for similar prize-for-vaccination programs after the Ohio campaign spurred an uptick in shots there. And Walz said the state would use part of its federal COVID-19 relief appropriation to fund the incentive program.

The governor said state officials picked the prizes because they thought they would appeal to Minnesotans and wanted to make incentives available to a larger group than a high-dollar lottery would allow. He also said the state would consider additional giveaways after the 100,000 freebies were claimed.

"We wanted to tailor this to Minnesota attractions, staying and doing things in Minnesota, and thought spreading it out further, we've got 100,000 people that can partake in this, just fit Minnesota better," he told reporters.

State officials said those Minnesotans 12 and older who got the first vaccine between May 27 and June 30 would become eligible for the following prizes:

  • Great Lakes Aquarium day pass
  • Nickelodeon Universe pass
  • Minnesota fishing license
  • annual state parks pass
  • adult admission to the Minnesota Zoo
  • Northwood Baseball league ticket
  • two admission tickets for the Minnesota State Fair
  • single-day admission to Valley Fair
  • $25 Visa gift card.

The campaign came under fire Thursday from Minnesota Republicans who said the state shouldn't foot the bill for vaccine incentives.

“Instead of Governor Walz promoting efforts to entice people to get vaccinated with 'free gifts' using taxpayer money, Walz should be working to remove the excessive unemployment benefits, incentivizing people to stay home," Minnesota GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan said in a news release.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com