More states turn to lotteries in vaccine hesitancy fight

More states turn to lotteries in vaccine hesitancy fight
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States are increasingly turning to lotteries as a way to try to get hesitant people vaccinated against the coronavirus and boost lagging numbers.

New York and Maryland on Thursday announced that residents who get the COVID-19 vaccine will be eligible for prize money, with Oregon unveiling similar plans on Friday. All three states are following in the footsteps of Ohio, which launched a lottery-focused campaign earlier this month.

Health officials in the Buckeye State are already reporting some promising results: Vaccinations for people 16 and older increased 28 percent the weekend after the lottery announcement, compared to the previous weekend.


Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineUniversity of Michigan says all students, faculty, staff must be vaccinated by fall term Americans' confidence in institutions slips after uptick: Gallup DeWine bans Ohio universities, schools from mandating COVID-19 vaccines MORE (R), said vaccinations had been trending down before the lottery.

“Really the only thing that has changed was the availability of the Vax-a-Million incentive,” Tierney said.

Vaccinated residents in Ohio will be entered to win one of five $1 million prizes.

The approach is garnering interest in other parts of the country. About 10 other states have talked to DeWine or his staff about the lottery incentive, Tierney said.

The White House also gave its support to the idea on Friday.

“From the data we've seen, they appear to be working,” White House senior adviser for the COVID-19 response Andy Slavitt said during a press briefing.


“I think the reason they work is because the vast number of people who are not yet vaccinated are actually not opposed to getting vaccinated,” he added. “They're just not prioritizing it very high. There are other things going on in their lives. Things that draw attention to it, like the lotteries in those states you mentioned, are, not surprisingly, very effective. And so we're enthusiastic.”

Health officials are looking for new ways to spur people to get vaccinated, now that the most eager Americans have already received their shots. Nationally, vaccinations have fallen from over 3 million per day in April to about 1.8 million per day, according to Our World in Data.

Still, some experts cautioned that the lotteries are not a cure-all. While lotteries can prompt people who have not gotten around to getting a vaccine yet, they do not address underlying issues like concerns about safety or worries about taking time off work to get vaccinated.

“It doesn’t at all deal with the structural obstacles that might still be there,” said Micah Berman, associate professor of public health and law at The Ohio State University.

“It certainly creates a buzz. It just can’t be the only thing that the state does,” he added.

While there appears to be a short-term increase in vaccinations after the announcement, he noted, it is also unclear whether that will be sustained over the longer term.

“If someone is concerned about the safety of the vaccine, will a lottery push them over that tipping point such that they would get the vaccine? I think we'll need to see,” said William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University. “My guess right now is that the impact's going to be marginal of these kinds of incentives, given our understanding of what the reasons underlying the reluctance [are].”

Still, governors noted that some people are not firmly opposed to getting a vaccine, they just might not have gotten around to it yet. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April found that while 13 percent of adults said they would “definitely not” get the vaccine, another 15 percent were more persuadable, saying they wanted to “wait and see.”

“The goal is just to get those reluctant folks or people that just haven't thought about it, hopefully this will get some attention,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) while standing next to a Lotto Ball mascot at a press conference Thursday.

Oregon Gov. Kate BrownKate BrownOregon mandates masks in schools, state buildings Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof eyeing gubernatorial bid in Oregon: report MORE (D) on Friday tweeted: “If you’ve been waiting to get a vaccine, or you just haven’t gotten around to it yet, we’re going to give you, Oregon, an extra incentive. How about a chance to win a million dollars?”

There are some slight differences between the state programs. Ohio is doing five drawings for $1 million each; Maryland is doing smaller drawings of $40,000 every day for 40 days, followed by a $400,000 drawing on the Fourth of July; New York is offering scratch tickets with prizes from $20 up to $5 million; and Oregon will have a $1 million prize and three dozen $10,000 prizes, one for each county.

There are also smaller incentive efforts. Erie County, N.Y., worked with a local brewery to offer free beer to people getting vaccinated. Maine is offering L.L. Bean gift cards, among other rewards.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’” DeWine tweeted upon making Ohio’s vaccine lottery announcement. “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.”