The hope that the new mask guidelines would incentivize people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 appeared to come true, according to data from Vaccines.gov

By Julie Mazziotta
June 01, 2021 05:05 PM
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A person getting vaccinated
| Credit: Getty

Interest in the COVID-19 vaccines spiked after the Centers for Disease Control announced that vaccinated people could now go without masks in most indoor and outdoor settings, according to data gathered by CNN.

Visits to Vaccines.gov, the main government website for finding vaccine sites by zip code, started increasing in the moments after CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the new, lifted guidelines on the afternoon of May 13. The site had been seeing its usual amount of daily traffic, but "just after 2 p.m., you really started to see them go up," John Brownstein, the co-founder of VaccineFinder, which runs Vaccines.gov, told CNN.

Two hours later, when President Joe Biden shared the new rules in a White House briefing and posted on social media: "The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do. The choice is yours," the site saw its second-highest visits ever. By the end of the day, it was the most-trafficked yet for Vaccines.gov.

Visits to the site had been declining in the weeks prior to May 13, Brownstein said, after the people who immediately wanted to get vaccinated had found their appointments and the remaining Americans largely preferred to wait to get inoculated. But that week, the site saw 1,972,434 visitors, up from 1,604,686 the previous week.

RELATED VIDEO: Vaccinated Americans Can Now Go Without Masks in Most Indoor and Outdoor Places, CDC Says

Health experts had hoped that providing an incentive like going mask-free would push people to get vaccinated, and that appeared to be the case after Walensky's announcement.

"A spike in usage on vaccines.gov right at that moment tells us that relaxing certain restrictions informed some people's decision to get the vaccine," Brownstein theorized.

Vaccinations also jumped up slightly in the days after the CDC's announcement after weeks of decline as interest dropped off. As of June 1, more than half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including 60.1% of the eligible population, those aged 12 and up. Of those groups, 40.9% of the total population are now fully vaccinated and 48.5% of the eligible population, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The increase in interest after the mask guidelines changed showed that incentives make a difference, Brownstein said.

"There was a specific segment of the population for which this new mask guidance was meaningful, so as we're trying to figure out which strategies work, this is one of them," he said. "For others, maybe lottery tickets or other incentives might work. But this one did work for at least some people."