Ohio, California, New York and Michigan are dangling million-dollar lotteries to get individuals vaccinated — however will it work?


At the beginning of this year, the demand for COVID-19 vaccines exceeded supply. The likelihood of winning the lottery felt higher than getting a vaccination appointment.

Now the US faces the opposite problem: a lack of demand for vaccines.

In hopes of increasing the number of people who get vaccinated, states like California, New York, and Michigan are dangling millions of lottery drawings for people who get their vaccinations.

Ohio was the first state to announce a special lottery in mid-May for people who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Vax-a-Million, the state’s five-week lottery, allowed Ohioans over the age of 18 to enter their vaccination records to win one of five prizes totaling $ 1 million. Ohio residents ages 12-17 could win a free ride to an Ohio State university or college.

Did it lead to a sustained increase in vaccination rates or just a temporary increase?

Doubts about effectiveness

But a recent study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that lotteries alone won’t buy higher vaccination rates.

Three researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine compared vaccination records from the US Centers for Pre- and Post-Lottery Disease Prevention and Control in Ohio with other states in the US that did not have vaccination incentive lottery programs.

“The study found no evidence that a lottery-based incentive in Ohio was linked to increased rates of COVID-19 vaccinations in adults,” the authors wrote.

Rather, they suggest that the rise in adult vaccination rates was linked to the May 10th Food and Drug Administration’s May 10 emergency approval of the Pfizer PFE, + 0.92% vaccine for 12-15 year olds.

“The small and transient surge in vaccinations in Ohio just after May 12th was similar to the other US states that didn’t have lottery incentives,” Allan Walkey, a study author, told MarketWatch.

But Dan Tierney, the press secretary for Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, questioned the researchers’ conclusion that the state’s lottery incentives had no discernible impact on vaccination rates.

“It doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “It is obvious that our numbers have increased after the announcement of Vax-a-Million.”

Ohio vaccination data says the percentage of people 16 and older who got their first vaccination in the week following the May 12 announcement by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine increased 44% from the week before.

That leveled off slightly over the following week, but still, the rate of Ohioans getting their first dose was 15% higher than before the Vax-a-Million announcement, noted Tierney.

Shock with vaccinations

The increase in people getting vaccinated exceeded DeWine’s expectations, Tierney told MarketWatch.

The study, he said, also failed to take into account the estimated $ 50 million worth of free advertising the state received for Vax-a-Million. This helped “change the tone of the way people talked about getting the vaccine,” he told MarketWatch.

“People had really positive conversations when they talked about vaccines after the announcement,” he added. “That had to have an effect that is not tangible.”

The authors of the JAMA study said: “[f]More evidence of the effectiveness of lotteries is needed as strategies to increase vaccine uptake are needed before widespread and potentially costly adoption. “

In Ohio, the total cost of the lottery program was $ 5 million in prize money plus approximately $ 650,000 in scholarship money, Tierney told MarketWatch. “The staff involved were employed and the Ohio Lottery already had the equipment to run the draws,” he said. An Ohio newspaper found that the $ 5 million prize was roughly equivalent to the average hospital bill for 40 severe cases of COVID-19.

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