Around New England

Worcester Health Official Calls Coronavirus Vaccine Incentive ‘Hail Mary’

December 4, 2022

The city of Worcester’s medical director used the title of a Roman Catholic prayer to describe a state program offering a $75 gift card to someone who gets a vaccine or booster at certain clinics.

“It is a little of a Hail Mary, I think. We’ve tried just about everything,” said Dr. Michael Hirsh, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, which published a story about his comments Friday, December 2.

A state official defended the program, called “Get Boosted.”

“It’s not a Hail Mary. We’re always looking for ways to incentivize communities to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Estevan Garcia, chief medical officer at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

The Hail Mary is a Catholic prayer based on Luke 1:28, Luke 1:42, and the Council of Ephesus in 431 that asks Mary the mother of Jesus, whom Catholics believe is in Heaven and is the queen of all saints, to pray to God for the person saying the prayer.

The term is also occasionally used in football, as the Worcester Telegram & Gazette story points out, as an expression referring to a desperate or at least low-percentage half-field heave into the endzone, usually at the end of the first half or the end of a game.

Roger Staubach, now 80, a Catholic and a former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, used the term after a December 1975 playoff game in which a last-second 50-yard pass led to a winning touchdown. But historians have traced comparable usages back to Notre Dame’s football team in 1922.

Public health officials who promote the coronavirus vaccines and boosters have expressed frustration with a lack of participation by members of the public.

As time has gone on, people have become less likely to get follow-up shots to the vaccines.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette story, published Wednesday, November 30, reports that 95 percent of people in Massachusetts have gotten one dose of the two-dose vaccines, 88 percent have gotten both doses, 55 percent have gotten at least one booster shot. Nationally, only 12.7 percent have gotten a bivalent booster shot touted as offering protection against the omicron variant of coronavirus.

In Worcester, the numbers are lower than the state and national averages – 77 percent for one dose of one of the two-dose coronavirus vaccines, 65 percent for both doses, 35 percent with at least one booster, and 8 percent for the bivalent booster shot for omicron.

“I think there is a certain level of resistance. Not just resistance to the COVID vaccine, resistance to all vaccinations,” Hirsh said, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette story.


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