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Million-dollar duds: Glitzy vaccine lotteries fail to lift state vaccination rates

The seven-figure cash prizes dangled by more than a dozen states have seemingly failed to boost COVID-19 vaccination numbers in meaningful ways.

Million-dollar duds: Glitzy vaccine lotteries fail to lift state vaccination rates
[Source Photo: natatravel/iStock]
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Despite their glitz and glamour, the seven-figure cash prizes dangled by more than a dozen states over the past few months have seemingly failed to boost COVID-19 vaccination numbers in meaningful ways.

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Recent data from those states suggests the carnival of lotteries hasn’t had the effect that policymakers were hoping for: Many states saw immediate spikes in vaccination rates that quickly flatlined, to the point that some are scratching the programs altogether.

That was the case for Ohio, which was the flagbearer of sorts for vaccine lotteries. After being the first to debut its program in May—which would award five vaccinated winners $1 million each—the state saw a two-week jump in inoculations, which then fell off sharply. Other states that followed Ohio’s lead after its fleeting glimmer of success saw even more lukewarm results. In New Mexico, which promised $10 million in cash prizes, the first week of the contest saw just 85 more vaccinations per day than the prior week. In Michigan, which touted a $5 million giveaway, vaccinations have reportedly gone up by less than 1%.

But in Oregon, the weekly vaccination rate actually dropped from 9,000 to 6,700 following its $1 million lottery rollout. And in Colorado, the month following its $5 million lottery saw nearly 600,000 fewer vaccinations than the month preceding it.

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All of this has spurred a torrent of debate over what works, what doesn’t, and why. And it hasn’t stopped states from trying everything and anything: More than half of the country now offers some kind of vaccine incentive, and they’re getting increasingly creative. In Delaware, you get free highway tolls. In Indiana, a free box of Girl Scout cookies. In Alabama, you got to drive your truck on the Talladega Superspeedway racetrack. In New Jersey, you got a chance to win dinner at the governor’s mansion. In other places: free hunting rifles, free zoo tickets, full scholarships to college. The list goes on.

However, some analysts remain skeptical. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that based on Ohio’s data, state-run lotteries have limited success in encouraging vaccinations, and those resources may be better spent by targeting “underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy and low vaccine uptake.”