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Ohio's first Vax-a-Million winners announced

While the $1 million prize is for vaccinated Ohioans 18 and older, younger residents are eligible for a college scholarship. Winners will be revealed each Wednesday through June 23.

One Ohio resident won a million dollars and another earned a full college scholarship Wednesday evening in Ohio's anticipated Vax-a-Million lottery.

The initiative aims to push people to get the Covid-19 vaccine. Five residents in all will be randomly selected for the cash prize, according to the state. Winners will be revealed each Wednesday through June 23 at 7:29 p.m.

The first $1 million winner was one of 2,758,470 adult entries in the drawing.

In addition to the $1 million prizes, Ohio is also offering five teenagers full-ride scholarships to any of its state colleges and universities, providing full tuition, room and board for four years.

On Wednesday, Abbigail Bugenske of Silverton won the $1 million prize, and Joseph Costello of Englewood won the scholarship.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine publicly announced the Vax-a-Million program two weeks ago, telling residents that those who were vaccinated will be automatically entered for the lottery, paid for by federal coronavirus funds.

DeWine acknowledged that some people might consider the idea “crazy” and a “waste of money” but the state saw a surge in vaccine sign-ups almost immediately following the announcement. Appointments for shots spiked two days after, with more than 25,400 doses administered on May 14.

Last week, the state said it saw a 28 percent increase in vaccinations over the weekend following DeWine’s announcement. Stephanie McCloud, director of the Ohio Department of Health, credited the lottery program with the “dramatic increase” on Thursday.

“We are grateful that the drawings are helping spur Ohioans to take this important measure to protect their health, their loved ones, and their community,” McCloud said. “Vaccines are our best tool to return to the lives we remember from before the pandemic.”

New York and Maryland have introduced versions of vaccine lotteries since Ohio’s program launched earlier this week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has seen a significant decrease in vaccinations as the most eager to get their shots have already been fully vaccinated.

New York’s Vax-N-Scratch pilot program offers those who get their inoculations at 10 state-run sites a ticket that offers 13 tiers of prizes — the lowest win at $20 escalating all the way to the $5 million jackpot. The chances of winning some amount of money are 1 in 9, according to Cuomo.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the Maryland Lottery will offer a $40,000 prize every day to a randomly selected vaccinated resident from May 25 to July 3. Then, on July 4, the state will offer a jackpot of $400,000.

Phil Helsel contributed.