From cash to celebrity photos and even temporary boyfriends: What Shanghai is offering for COVID-19 vaccinations

Society & Culture

To help get more shots in more arms more quickly, nearly every city across China has begun giving free goodies and prizes to vaccinated adults. But one city really stood out in this nationwide drive: Shanghai.

Residents receive vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a makeshift vaccination site in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China June 21, 2021. Image from Reuters.

With the delta variant threatening to wreak havoc on unvaccinated Chinese masses, China has kicked its vaccination effort into high gear.

Last week, China announced that it had reached a major milestone in its vaccination push with over 40 percent of the entire population inoculated against COVID-19. According to health authorities, the next target to hit is the vaccination of 70 percent of China’s nearly 1.4 billion people by the end of the year.

To help get more shots in more arms more quickly, nearly every city across China has begun giving free goodies and prizes to vaccinated adults. But one city really stood out in this nationwide drive: Shanghai. By offering a broad array of incentives ranging from the somewhat sensible to the completely absurd, the 16 districts in the coastal metropolis are currently in a cutthroat competition to cajole the public into getting vaccinated. 

In the past few weeks, the incentives in Shanghai have grown so enticing that the unvaccinated residents have formed communities on social media where they exchanged information before receiving what they considered to be the most rewarding jabs. There were also tales of people from other areas traveling to Shanghai just to take advantage of the bonus non-medical benefits of vaccination.

Here’s a selection of some of the most wild or generous incentives that Shanghai has offered to people to encourage them to get the COVID vaccines:

Photos with celebrities 

Tapping into its local resources, Shanghai’s Pudong District has teamed up with the Mercedes-Benz Arena, a preeminent venue for sporting and musical events, to offer a range of celebrity- and entertainment-related incentives (in Chinese), including free concert tickets, autographed posters, and a chance at posing for photos with artists who are slated to play the venue.

china vaccination
Image from Weibo

Temporary boyfriends

Light and Night 光与夜之恋, a dating simulation game for mobile, captured the hearts of millions of young women in China when it was launched by Tencent earlier this year. Seeing an opportunity in capitalizing on the game’s popularity, Shanghai’s Jingan District hired four male models (in Chinese) to cosplay as main characters from the game, who were tasked with being affectionate companions to the players who showed up at a vaccination site.

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Apple products

In some neighborhoods in Shanghai, vaccinated residents are eligible to enter daily lottery drawings (in Chinese) that boast a combination of gifts such as groceries, home supplies, and movie tickets. Top prizes for these lotteries are usually Apple products like iPhones and laptops.

china vaccination
Image from Weibo

1,500 yuan ($232)

While a growing number of U.S. states have launched million-dollar lottery jackpots as incentives for Americans to get vaccinated, Shanghai officials appear to be more fond of a more direct approach of equal cash payouts. In most districts in the city, vaccinated residents are given cash rewards ranging from 200 yuan ($31) to 500 yuan ($77). But last week, a neighborhood committee in Yangpu District topped them all (in Chinese) by paying locals 1,500 yuan ($232) for getting vaccinated.

Disney park tickets

Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone, where the only Disney park in mainland China is located, has been giving away free theme park one-day admission tickets (in Chinese), which are priced at about 400 yuan ($62) for adults on weekdays, to visitors who get their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a location close to the park. The tickets will be valid until the end of 2021.