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States seeing mixed results with vaccine lotteries

Governor’s office pushes back on report saying Ohio’s lottery didn’t boost vaccinations
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 3:28 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Ohio was the first in the nation to launch a COVID-19 vaccine lottery.

Gov. Mike DeWine has brushed off criticism ever since the state launched the sweepstakes on May 12. But since Ohio began offering the cash and scholarship incentives, at least a dozen other states followed.

That includes Michigan. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the MI Shot to Win sweepstakes on July 1. The deadline for the million-dollar drawing is Saturday. More than one million people have already signed up.

But a new study published in JAMA warns states of conducting programs Vax-a-Million. Researchers at Boston University said the lottery didn’t result in an increase in adult vaccination rates.

DeWine’s office disagrees with the study.

“We believe this study is flawed,” said Dan Tierney, the governor’s press secretary. “Our data does not reflect the continued decline the BU study graphs claim to show.”

He said the Boston University researchers based their analysis on the date vaccinations were reported to the CDC. Ohio’s data tracks first doses on the day they were administered.

“We believe the Ohio data based upon first dose start date is the most accurate measure if you are doing a study on if an event caused you to get a vaccine within specific days of that event, and that data clearly shows a significant increase after the Vax-a-Million announcement,” Tierney said.

He cited state numbers that show an increase in first doses administered before and after the Vax-a-Million announcement. It also came around the same time that those ages 12-15 became eligible for the shots.

All ages:

Week 1 compared to base: 106% increase

Week 2 compared to base: 53% increase

16+:

Week 1 compared to base: 44% increase

Week 2 compared to base: 15% increase

Not all states have experienced success with their incentive programs. Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, said their program isn’t working.

Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes has criticized Ohio’s Vax-a-Million initiative from the beginning.

“Vaccinations are very difficult,” They’re becoming more difficult because they have a political tinge to them, unfortunately.”

That’s why she says vaccination efforts should have been more targeted, something the DeWine administration says is still a priority.

Leaders said in the early days of Vax-a-Million that seeing any small increase would make the program worth it. Anecdotal evidence, including comments from one of the million-dollar winners from Toledo, suggested that some people got the shot because of the lottery.

“I would not suggest that it was a complete lost cause,” Sykes said. “However, we have to be realistic with how we use these precious resources that we have. Perhaps there would’ve been another way to convince the person who said they only got it for Vax-a-Million that didn’t cost a million dollars.”

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A new Kaiser Family Foundation report says the COVID-19 vaccination divide among red and blue states is growing. The politicization of vaccines is something that Sykes says is going to be harder to change “this late in the game.”

Some Republicans in Columbus have pushed anti-vaccination bills this year. A prominent anti-vaccination doctor made national headlines when she said the COVID-19 vaccine was causing people to become magnetized during a House Health Committee hearing.

“Unfortunately, especially in the statehouse, vaccinations have become a political football and the losers are the people of this state,” Sykes said, noting that fewer than half of the state’s residents are vaccinated as the Delta variant becomes the country’s dominant strain of the virus.

“I find no joy or solace in calling out my colleagues in saying they’re approaching this wrong. These lives are at stake. The people who will fail and the people who will lose are the people of this state.”

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