California’s COVID Vaccine Lottery Will Offer $116 Million in Prizes to Those Who’ve Had Their Shot

Toby Hazlewood

Lottery prizes and free groceries to bribe Californians who haven't had their shot

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The US rollout of the Covid vaccination is going well by most measures - 291 million doses have been administered so far. But with progress now slowing and 1 in 4 Americans saying they don't intend to get vaccinated, state leaders are coming up with innovative ways to persuade those who've not yet had their dose to get immunized.

There still appears to be a way to go to achieve herd-immunity. Data comparing progress the world over suggests that the USA is currently running in third place, behind Israel and the United Kingdom - with just under 45% of the population having received at least one dose. Upwards of 85% of the population needs to be immune before herd immunity is effective. In California, estimates suggest that around 63% of the 34 million currently eligible to receive their shot have taken it up.

How to convince the un-vaccinated?

There are many possible reasons why people might be reluctant to get the vaccine. Some are likely skeptical or simply in denial about the risk presented by Covid-19. Others may doubt the effectiveness of the vaccine and prefer to take their chances.

Then there are those who subscribe to conspiracy theories regarding the vaccine - that the vaccine is a secretive way for governments to alter citizens' DNA or to implant us all with microchips so that Bill Gates can control our every move.

Aside from appealing to the better nature of people to be responsible for theirs and their community's health, or trying to persuade them with scientific facts, one further option is to offer bribes to them to get the shot.

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You've got to be in it to win it

Earlier this month in Ohio, Republican Governor Mike DeWine came up with an innovative way of incentivizing residents in his state to get their vaccine. On 26th May there will be a draw for a $1 million prize for one adult resident of the state who has had their vaccine. A four year college scholarship was available for those aged 17 and under who got their shot. Prizes for the lottery were funded from Federal cash provided to fight the virus.

Since then, other states have followed suit. In Maryland, Republican Governor Gary Hogan announced their own Covid-19 vaccine lottery offering a $40,000 daily prize to a vaccinated Marylander.

And hot on their heels, Governor Gavin Newsom has now followed suit. The California Covid lottery offers the largest prizes seen - 10 residents will each win a $1.5 million prize in coming weeks. There will also be 30 prizes of $50,000 and the next 2 million to receive their vaccine dose will receive $50 grocery gift cards. Californians under 18 who are vaccinated and win, will have their prize held in trust until they're over 18.

It seems a generous scheme and one that could help to push California closer to the target number of vaccinated citizens. Time will tell.

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Bribing Americans to receive their shot

The Covid lottery schemes follow similar initiatives being pursued in other states, where state leaders have concocted ways to incentivize those who might not otherwise bother.

It's unclear whether any of these promotions will continue beyond their initial advertised periods, or whether they'll be broadened to include other citizens, but it demonstrates how states and even private businesses have been trying to encourage people to get their shot, by whatever means possible.

Should it be necessary?

There will of course be those who question whether it should be necessary to incentivize people to do the right thing and get vaccinated. Some consider it their public duty to protect themselves, and by extension, others by getting their shot.

Citizens who've had their vaccine willingly may even feel aggrieved that so much money has to be used to persuade people to do what they should have done already.

People in countries like India, currently undergoing a vicious spike in cases would of course love to be eligible for a vaccine and would take it willingly without having to be bribed. The BBC reported that in April, only 0.3% of vaccine doses went to those in low-income countries - a figure that needs to be addressed if the world is likely to beat Covid-19 properly without the future emergence of deadly mutations that undermine the value of the vaccines currently being rolled out.

But nonetheless, for residents of California, Maryland, New Jersey and Michigan - anything that increases the take-up of the vaccine must of course be viewed as a positive step towards herd immunity and the eventual relaxation of social distancing rules.

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