Thursday, 17 Jun 2021

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? In Ohio, You Just Need Luck, and a Covid Vaccine.

With virus vaccinations on the decline nationally, states are offering big incentives, even $1 million prizes. Will it work?

By Sarah Mervosh

After the state of Ohio announced with great fanfare that residents who got at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine would be eligible to win a hefty $1 million, Jack Pepper saw something remarkable happen at his sleepy rural vaccination clinic.

For the first time in a while, there was a line at the door. Officials, who had been strategizing about how they might give away extra doses, were suddenly operating at full capacity.

“I think we did close to 400 people in four hours,” said Mr. Pepper, the administrator for the health department in Athens County, a county of about 65,000 in southeastern Ohio. “Anywhere I go, people are joking with me, ‘Hey, when am I going to win my million dollars?’”

Anticipation approached a peak on Wednesday as the Ohio lottery campaign — deemed “Vax-a-Million” (including a cheeky bandage on the X) — prepared to announce its first winner. It was among the first of several chances for Americans to win big money — if they have been vaccinated.

Colorado announced its own $1 million vaccine lottery this week, and Oregon is offering a $1 million jackpot, in addition to $10,000 prizes. Elsewhere, state and local officials are getting creative with simple approaches (free beer in Erie County, N.Y.) and fancy ones (dinner with the governor of New Jersey, anyone?).

All of it is meant to lure the remaining 40 percent of American adults and teenagers who have yet to get a vaccine. But the success of incentives in an era of the coronavirus remains relatively unknown, and the flashy draw of $1 million campaigns has stirred intense debate among politicians, economists and health officials.

In Ohio, the picture is mixed. In the days after the state announced the vaccine lottery, the average number of new vaccinations per day increased to as many as 26,000, up from about 15,000, according to state data, a bump that experts described as meaningful at a time with declining demand nationally. Yet the upticks have come most prominently in rural areas — not the state’s biggest cities — and the campaign started at around the same time that adolescents, ages 12 to 15, were newly permitted to get shots, generating a new burst of interest.

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