States find vaccine incentives not always key to getting more shots in arms

Ohio, the state that launched the national movement to offer millions of dollars in incentives to boost vaccination rates, planned to conclude its prize program Wednesday — still unable to crack the 50 per cent vaccination threshold.

In Canada, two provinces have also offered cash and prizes for shots

People walk past a sign advertising Ohio's COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic at Cleveland State University on May 25, 2021. The state is wrapping up its vaccine incentive lottery, having fallen short of its target. (Tony Dejak/The Associated Press)

Ohio, the state that launched the national movement to offer millions of dollars in incentives to boost vaccination rates, planned to conclude its program Wednesday — still unable to crack the 50 per cent vaccination threshold.

The state isn't alone in seeing mixed results from prize incentives.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine's May 12 announcement of the incentive program had the desired effect, leading to a 43 per cent boost in state vaccination numbers over the previous week. But numbers of vaccinations have dropped since then.

"Clearly the impact went down after that second week," DeWine acknowledged Wednesday.

Multiple other states followed Ohio's lead, including Louisiana, Maryland and New York state, with the impact on vaccinations hard to pin down.

Some provinces also joined incentive game

In Canada, Alberta and Manitoba offered cash prizes as vaccine incentives, while Manitoba also offered scholarships to kids aged 12 to 17 who get two shots.

Saskatchewan's opposition NDP urged the provincial government to offer similar incentives as Saskatchewan dropped to last among all provinces in the percentage of the population with at least one dose.

Under New Mexico's "Vax 2 the Max" sweepstakes program, vaccinated residents could win prizes from a pool totalling $10 million US. The rewards include a $5 million grand prize that will be drawn later this summer.

The sweepstakes kept the rate of new vaccinations from declining further, but the initial boost was small. According to the governor's office, the seven-day average of new vaccination registrations was 1,437 per day during the first week of the contest — just 85 more per day than the previous week.

California awarded $116.5 million in prizes — the country's largest pot of vaccine prize money — and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said they increased vaccinations at a time when more was needed to get people to overcome reservations or inertia.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced $116.5 million US in prizes in a COVID-19 vaccination drive in Los Angeles in May. (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press)

From the time the incentives were announced May 27 until the June 15 finale, Newsom said California was one of the few states to see a week-over-week increase in the rate of vaccinations, including a 22 per cent increase in the week prior to the awarding of the grand prizes.

The Sacramento Bee noted that the increase was skewed because the previous week included three lower vaccination days over the Memorial Day weekend, and found most of the increase was from second doses of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks after 12- to 15-year-olds became eligible on May 13.

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, hoped to use a series of prize giveaways to inject new life into a vaccine drive that drastically slowed down after a strong early start.

When he announced the drawings last month, Justice had projected that more than two-thirds of eligible residents ages 12 and over would be vaccinated by the time he removed a mask mandate on Sunday.

But the state fell short of that goal — 61.5 per cent had received at least one dose by Sunday's first drawing.

Travel added as incentive

In late May, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that Oregonians who are 18 or older and have received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine will automatically be entered to win $1 million or one of 36 $10,000 prizes — with one winner in each county.

Oregonians ages 12 to 17 have a chance to win one of five $100,000 scholarships. The drawing is set to take place on June 28.

The Oregonian reported in early June that the seven-day average of adults receiving their first shots had actually decreased from about 9,000 the day before Brown, a Democrat, announced the lottery to 6,700 nearly two weeks later.

This month, Brown announced additional prizes including travel packages to destinations around Oregon and more than 1,500 gift cards, each worth $100, that were being distributed at vaccine sites during the weekend of June 12 — an incentive that officials said brought a noticeable increase of people to sites.

In Colorado, vaccinations have slowed since its lottery was rolled out by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis last month, with about 500,000 fewer doses given out in the month since Polis' announcement, compared to the same amount of time a month before the contest began.

The state is offering five residents the chance to win $1 million each in weekly lottery drawings from June 4 until July 7.

Eighth grader Joseph Costello of Englewood, Ohio, seen here with his parents, was the winner of the Ohio Vax-a-Million, full college scholarship vaccination incentive prize. (The Associated Press)

Incentive success short-lived in some regions

In Ohio, about 5.5 million people, or about 47 per cent of the population, had received at least one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of Wednesday. About five million people, or 43 per cent of the population, have completed the process.

While the incentive's success was short-lived, DeWine said it convinced Ohioans who were either straddling the line or who had no plans to get the shot to get vaccinated.

As evidence, Jonathan Carlyle of Toledo, an Amazon delivery person who won the second $1 million prize on June 2, and said the next day: "When y'all announced the Vax-a-Million, as soon as I heard that, I was like 'Yes, I need to go do this now.' "

DeWine continues to urge Ohioans to get vaccines, saying the end of state social distancing requirements, the return to in-person school classes in the fall and the multiplying of virus variants remain a concern.

Last week, DeWine held a news conference at Thomas Worthington High School in suburban Columbus along with students and coaches urging middle and high school children who play sports to get vaccinated.

With files from CBC News

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