By John Ramos

SAN MATEO (KPIX) — Health officials across California are looking for ways to convince unvaccinated people to get the shot. San Mateo County has come up with an incentive that may appeal to people from all around the Bay Area — at least those who long for summer.

Nothing says “summer” like a county fair and, when San Mateo decided to hold one this year, the county health department realized what a good marketing opportunity it would be for their vaccination program.

“The second we figured out we could do a real walk-in fair, we pulled the trigger,” said Dana Stoehr, CEO of the San Mateo Event Center and Fairgrounds. “We did it. We were the first out of the gate. We’re the largest and only summer fair in the Bay Area this summer. Everybody pushed back but we stepped on the gas and said, ‘let’s go.’”

County health officials are making the most it. At a mobile vaccination clinic out front, anyone getting a shot gets free admission for themselves and a young guest, in addition to $20 in free food and four rides on the midway.

“About two or three weeks ago, we decided we would try to do a vaccine clinic at the fair,” said clinic operations chief Trish Erwin, “try to get those last 20 percent of people who need to get their vaccines, still.

Cynthia Castillo had put off getting her shot after hearing about long lines at the Coliseum site but the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a free day at the fair was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“It was definitely an incentive today,” Cynthia said. “It just made it, like it was meant to be.”

Thirteen-year-old Kinsley Graybow wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about getting a shot at the fair as his father, Troy.

“When you come to a fair there’s all kinds of free stuff and unexpected surprises,” Troy Graybow said, “so I think it’s a great idea.”

Inside, the exhibits were a bit smaller and spread out but the midway was still exciting and, of course, there was the food. Just being around a crowd of people again felt like a little slice of normal.

“To me, I’m overwhelmed and I’m going to stay out here all day!” said Michael Avila from San Jose. “I’m going to eat tons of food and I’m going to walk it off and I’m just going to keep eating!”

Seventeen-year-old Gabriel Baumbach may have summed it up the best.

“Last year we couldn’t be here because of COVID and it was not really safe,” he said. “But now I’m back!”

So is the fair.

The free vaccination clinic will operate through the weekend and Thursday through Sunday next week.