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States are introducing vaccine lotteries — some with multimillion-dollar prizes — to combat slowing vaccination rates

Ohio, which announced its vaccine lottery program last week, has already seen a 28 percent increase in vaccinations.

New York and Maryland announced new lottery prizes Thursday for people who get their Covid-19 vaccinations — programs that follow the vaccine lottery in Ohio, which had a 28 percent increase in vaccinations in the days after the incentive was announced.

The lotteries are part of a slew of incentive programs that have been introduced in an effort to combat slowing vaccination rates.

New York

In New York, any adult who gets vaccinated at any of the 10 state-run sites from May 24 to May 28 will be eligible to receive a ticket, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday. The jackpot is a total of $5 million, a prize that the state hopes will counter a significant drop in vaccinations.

“Troubling news, the number of vaccinations are slowing,” Cuomo said during a news conference in Buffalo. “And they’re slowing dramatically. We have a 43 percent decline in people coming in for vaccinations.”

The decline is likely attributable to a number of reasons, including that those who were most willing and eager to get vaccinated signed up early, Cuomo said. The state is now trying to reach those who might not be absolutely against vaccinations but could be swayed by incentives.

“The question that I think about all the time is, this is a unique moment in history, what do we do now to excel nationally and internationally?” Cuomo said.

Cuomo called the lottery program a “big new reason” to get inoculated against the coronavirus in a tweet, pushing for more vaccinations as the state reopens and abandons masks for those fully vaccinated. The pilot program starts Monday, but it's possible the state will announce more lotteries depending on its success.

There are 13 prize tiers in the "Vax-N-Scratch" program, from the lowest win at $20 to the $5 million jackpot. The chances of winning some amount of money are 1 in 9, according to Cuomo.

Restrictions are still in place for indoor events in New York, but the state has lifted its mask mandate for fully vaccinated people in most places as of Wednesday.

About 42 percent of New York’s total population, including minors, are fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the latest state data, with a slight dip to about 40 percent for just the New York City region.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in New York City on May 13, 2021.Lev Radin / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Maryland

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan presented the state's own vaccine lottery during a news conference Thursday afternoon, with 30 drawings over the next six weeks. 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.

"Entry is very simple. All you have to do is get vaccinated for Covid-19 here in Maryland, be a Maryland resident, and be 18 or older," Hogan. "Anyone 18 years or older who has already been vaccinated for Covid-19 in Maryland is also eligible for these prizes and will automatically be entered to win."

The sooner residents get vaccinated, the more drawings they will be entered into, Hogan said. The money, a total of $2 million, will be provided through the Maryland Lottery's marketing fund.

Ohio

The Maryland and New York initiatives both follow Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's announcement of $1 million lottery drawings for five people each week. The lottery money would be allocated from the federal coronavirus funds given to Ohio. DeWine acknowledged in a statement that people might find the idea slightly unusual, but defended his decision.

"I know that some may say, 'DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’” DeWine said. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to Covid-19.”

It appeared that the announcement was an early success, as shots spiked two days after, with more than 25,400 doses administered on Friday.

And the program has seen steady participation, according to new vaccination numbers on Thursday. Vaccinations for those over the age of 16 dropped for about 25 percent in Ohio from May 7 to May 10, but then saw a 28 percent increase over the weekend following DeWine’s announcement.

Stephanie McCloud, director of the Ohio Department of Health, credited the lottery program with the “dramatic increase.”

“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.”

The decisions in Maryland, New York and Ohio follow a number of creative incentives to push its residents to get vaccinated, including West Virginia offering $100 saving bonds to people ages 16 to 35. Schools and private businesses have also added their own incentives, ranging from a free donut to tuition credit.