Easy money: Ohio resident wins $1m in coronavirus vaccine lottery

Some US states are providing big incentives for people receiving a shot

The lottery initiative, started by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, came after the state's vaccination rates started to fall in mid-May. AP
The lottery initiative, started by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, came after the state's vaccination rates started to fall in mid-May. AP

One lucky Ohio resident is now a millionaire thanks to the state's Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Abbigail Bugenske, a vaccine recipient from the small community of Silverton, won Ohio's Vax-a-Million lottery on Wednesday, the first draw in a five-week scheme aimed at boosting vaccination rates.

“I was screaming enough that my parents thought that I was crying and that something was wrong,” Ms Bugenske said on Thursday morning, according to news site Cleveland.com.

“When I started yelling that I won $1 million and I was going to be a millionaire, they told me to calm down and make sure it wasn’t a prank before I really started freaking out. So, they grounded me a bit.”

A second lottery is focused on improving vaccination rates among young people, offering full scholarships to any of Ohio's public universities for those who have received a vaccine.

Joseph Costello, 14, won Wednesday's scholarship draw.

The initiative, started by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, came after the state's vaccination rates started to fall in mid-May.

Since the Vax-a-Million lottery was announced on May 12, the state’s vaccine rate has increased significantly.

According to Mr DeWine, vaccination rates among those aged 16 and 17 has increased by 94 per cent while the overall rate has jumped 33 per cent.

More than 2.7 million people have registered for the lottery and more than 100,000 young Ohioans have registered for the scholarship opportunity.

But the programme has come under fire from local state representatives who claim it is a waste of money.

“I do not support Governor Mike DeWine’s decision to offer taxpayer-funded incentives in an effort to get more Ohioans vaccinated,” said Haraz Ghanbari, a Republican state representative.

Mr Ghanbari went on to call the lottery “unethical".

But the medical community has applauded the Republican governor's efforts.

“I think it’s a great way to get people who might have been on the fence about why they should get the Covid vaccine to really encourage them to be a part of the excitement and to go ahead and get vaccinated and help us get back to normal life,” said Melissa Wervey Arnold, chief executive and executive director of Ohio's chapter of the American Academy of Paediatrics.

Earlier this week, Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser on the coronavirus response, lauded the state’s efforts.

“Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has unlocked a secret: people do care about getting vaccinated, but it turns out they also have other things they care about,” Mr Slavitt said on Tuesday.

The federal government is now encouraging other states to find similarly creative ways to encourage Americans to be vaccinated.

On Tuesday, the Department of the Treasury released new guidelines on how states can use federal funds to encourage people to be vaccinated.

In the weeks since Ohio announced their Vax-a-Million lottery, New York, Maryland and Oregon have set up similar programmes. In West Virginia, the state government said it would offer $100 savings bonds to young people who took the shot.

Some states are facing an uphill battle, as there is a high level of vaccine scepticism in the US.

“They don’t trust the data, they don’t trust the science, they’re worried about adverse effects from getting vaccinated, even though we know that the data proves that vaccines are safe and effective,” Ms Wervey Arnold told The National.

About one third of Americans are hesitant to take the vaccine, according to polls.

But in an all-out sprint to reach herd immunity, incentive programmes are giving vaccine hesitancy a run for its money.

Updated: May 27, 2021 07:30 PM

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