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As states look to incentivize the vaccine hesitant, West Virginia offers free guns

justice west virginia babydog free guns
Photo via Governor Jim Justice/YouTube

Governors are getting creative in their efforts to entice their residents to get vaccinated. But West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has seized upon an idea to convince people to get the COVID vaccine that might uniquely appeal to his state’s populace: free guns. 

In a June 1 press conference that Justice held to update West Virginians on the state’s progress in fighting COVID-19, he offered hunting rifles and shotguns as part of a wide-ranging list of gifts to be appropriated via lottery starting with the upcoming Father’s Day holiday on June 20. 

As The Hill reported, the custom rifles and shotguns aren’t the only enticements. Justice announced that prizes will include “two brand-new, custom outfitted trucks and five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses. In addition, residents could win one of 25 getaways to West Virginia’s state parks.” 

Given that 30 states, at their current vaccination rates, won’t reach the 70% inoculation goal that President Joe Biden set for July 4, West Virginia joins states like Ohio (a $1 million lottery), New York (a possible chance to win $5 million), and New Jersey (free beer) in trying to get their populations vaccinated.

Along with the free guns, cash prizes are also involved in West Virginia’s plan to dole out more COVID vaccines, including a $1 million prize to be given away June 20 and two full, four-year scholarships for any state institution to eligible students ages 12-25. 

The $1 million prizes will continue for another five weeks, and then on Aug. 4, one lucky person will win a grand prize of $1.58 million, and a slightly less lucky (but still quite lucky) person will win $588,000.

All West Virginians who have received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine will be eligible for the lottery. 

“The faster we get people across the finish line, the more lives we save. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said in NPR’s account of the story. “If the tab just keeps running, the cost is enormous. The hospitalizations are enormous. We have to get all of our folks across the finish line.”

Justice also implored his state’s residents to “Do it for Babydog”—the governor’s pet dog. 

“Please just go get your vaccination,” the governor implored while holding Babydog in his lap, according to WOWK-TV. “Please go get your vaccination. Win all the prizes that are out there. But get vaccinated for you, for your family, for your loved ones, and absolutely for this cute little face.”

Justice reported on the overall case and vaccination numbers, finding some positives to build upon. As CNN noted, Justice said that the active case number in the state, 4,550, is the lowest it’s been since October 2020. 

On the inoculation front, Justice said as of June 1, “We have well in excess of 75% of our people that are 50 years of age or older that have received their first shot. Also today, we also hit 84% of our 65 years of age and older, and so we’re 1% away from a lofty, lofty goal to have 85% of our folks vaccinated that are 65 years of age and older.”

The New York Times‘ report on vaccination rates from June 3 had 49% of the state’s adults vaccinated and a seven-day vaccination average of 143 per 100,000. At that rate, West Virginia wouldn’t reach the 70% goal mark until October. 

Sources: The Hill, NPR, WOWK, CNN, New York Times


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