In the early days of vaccination availability in the U.S., some people who secured appointments likened it to winning the lottery. Now, with the COVID vaccine widely available but with rates slowing way down, Ohio has announced a literal lottery of $1 million to incentivize those who haven’t yet been inoculated.
The “Ohio Vax-a-Million” program, announced by Gov. Mike DeWine in a statewide media address on May 12, will award $1 million prizes to five adults, plus five full in-state public college scholarships to teens who receive the COVID vaccine.
The drawings, to be conducted by the Ohio Lottery, will be held on five consecutive Wednesdays starting May 26, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Eligible people will be drawn from the Ohio secretary of state’s voter registration database. NPR notes that a website will be added for those who aren’t registered voters but who wish to be considered for the randomly drawn reward.
To coincide with the Pfizer vaccine becoming available for adolescents, those between the ages of 12-17 can register for the scholarship drawing through an electronic portal that will be available beginning May 18. The winner will get their tuition, room, board, and books covered.
The Dispatch article noted that close to 5 million Ohioans, or 42% of those eligible, have received at least one dose of an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccination. Most of those, however, were seeking to get the vaccine as soon as possible. The “Ohio Vax-a-Million” is being offered to help sway those on the fence or even those who are vaccine-hesitant from participating in the public health initiative.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’” DeWine wrote on Twitter. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic—when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it—is a life lost to COVID-19.”
The New York Times said there could be questions raised about the program’s legality, which would pay winners via federal coronavirus funds issued to Ohio. Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine, noted “the state had not sought the federal government’s guidance on the lottery program, nor was it required.”
This isn’t the first attempt by a governor to tie financial rewards to vaccination. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced in April that the state would give $100 savings bonds to 16- to 35-year-olds who get a COVID-19 vaccine, but he later said that the state would explore other incentives once encountering obstacles in setting up a savings-bond program. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a $100 compensation plan on May 10 for state employees who get vaccinated.
A report by the UCLA COVID-19 Health and Politics Project said about one-third of the unvaccinated population would be more likely to get a shot if it were tied to a cash incentive, which was more persuasive to Democrats. Meanwhile, Republicans surveyed were most responsive to being able to relax mask and social distancing guidelines.
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