Quebec's vaccine lottery kicks off to boost lagging vaccination rates ahead of return to school

Quebec is dishing out $2 million in prizes to vaccinated residents in a bid to reinvigorate vaccination rates in youth to secure a normal return to school in the fall.

More than 500,000 people have registered for the contest since Sunday

The vaccine lottery opened for registration at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, but not without a few technical difficulties. (Andrej Ivanov/Reuters)

When Emily Thorne heard about Quebec's vaccination lottery, she said she wouldn't hesitate to try her luck for a big win. 

Thorne has two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, meaning she's eligible to win a $1-million prize this summer thanks to a provincial campaign called Gagner à être vacciné! (vaccination has its benefits) in partnership with Loto-Québec. The province will hold weekly draws in the month of August plus a grand prize draw in early September to dish out a total of $2 million dollars to residents who have received their first or second doses.

"I'm definitely going to put my name in there," Thorne said.

The vaccine lottery opened for registration at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, but not without a few technical difficulties. After multiple breakdowns and error messages, the province's health ministry said more than 519,242 people have been able to register for the contest on Quebec's vaccination portal.

The Health Ministry said they will continue to adapt to the high traffic on the site in order to improve the system, which remains spotty. 

Vaccinated people have until Aug. 5, 11:59 p.m. to register for the first draw on Aug. 6. One entry is required to be eligible for all draws. 

The entry process involves filling out a proof of vaccination form. Once complete, users are prompted to enter the competition by providing some additional information. All Quebecers who have been previously vaccinated, either in the province or elsewhere (with proof they received a Health Canada-approved shot) are eligible.

Vaccinated adults will be eligible for cash prizes, while teens will have the chance to win bursaries. 

The lottery aims to entice as many people, especially young people, to get vaccinated or move up their second doses in time for the start of the school year, as well as to reward those who have been vaccinated since the start of the campaign.

'Throwing money at the problem'

Dr. Stephanie Smith is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta hospital (University of Alberta)

Vaccination lotteries are also being held this summer in Alberta and Manitoba. But an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta hospital said the campaign hasn't had a big impact on vaccination trend lines.

"We were seeing increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated before the lottery was announced," Dr. Stephanie Smith said, "but certainly the number of people going for their first dose has slowed down a bit and we haven't really seen an increase after the lottery was announced."

Smith said Quebec's incentive will most likely motivate people to get their second doses who were otherwise not in a rush to do so. For those who are hesitant, however, the government needs to address the reasons behind that instead of "throwing money at the problem," she said.

"I had spoken to some patients of mine and they actually felt that having a lottery made them more skeptical about the vaccine because they felt that there must be something wrong with it if you have to pay people to get it," Smith said. 

In Quebec, $150,000 will be drawn for those 18 and older each week in August, and two $10,000 bursaries will be drawn for those aged 12 to 17. 

On Sept. 3, a $1-million prize will be drawn for fully vaccinated adults, and 16 $20,000 bursaries will be drawn for fully vaccinated teens.

Push for herd immunity in schools

The Quebec government has said a normal return to school, with no physical distancing in place, is only possible if 75 per cent of student-aged youths are vaccinated, the majority with two doses.

As of Friday, 79 per cent of Quebec's 12-to-17-year-olds have received one dose, while only 19 per cent have received both. 

First doses for young adults aged 18 to 29 have plateaued at 70 per cent for the past few days, prompting Health Minister Christian Dubé to call on youths to "make a difference" to avoid a surge in cases come the fall.

Dr. Christos Karatzios, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital, said it's imperative that youths get vaccinated now in order to reach the threshold of herd immunity in schools this fall. 

"Especially when we're dealing with a very transmissible variant, putting kids back in schools in classroom that have no windows, no proper ventilation," he said. "We're not in the safe zone yet." 

When it comes to the vaccine lottery, he said having "a carrot on a stick" helps, but what's really needed is clear messaging from health officials that the vaccines are effective and adverse reactions are very rare. 

"For me, anything that can help push forward the vaccination campaign is kosher," Karatzios said.

    With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio


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