May 27, 2021 -- Across the nation, states are offering prizes to boost inoculation rates in the country. In Ohio, the “Vax-a-Million” plan has gained national acclaim, and for two Ohio residents, the plan became payday.
The plan was introduced by Gov. Mike DeWine (R) as a way to get more people vaccinated in the state. The plan awards $1 million to five vaccinated adults and a full-ride scholarship to Ohio public colleges to five vaccinated teenagers.
On Wednesday, the first broadcast aired announcing two winners: Abigail Bugenske won the $1 million draw, and Joseph Costello won a scholarship.
Karen Bugenske, Abigail’s grandmother, says she had no idea her granddaughter had won until reporters began calling. “I can’t believe it,” she told The Washington Post. “I kept saying, ‘Stop, this is a scam,’" she said. “It’s, what, a million? No, you don’t mean a million, you mean a thousand. ... Wow, this is unbelievable."
This lottery is part of a nationwide effort to encourage Americans to get their shots, something that has gained more urgency as the average pace of coronavirus vaccinations is down almost 50% from its April peak. With about half of the U.S. population vaccinated and states lifting COVID-19 restrictions, this push for incentives has begun in order to increase the number of vaccinated citizens.
In Ohio, 45% of residents have received at least one dose, which slightly lags the rest of the nation. DeWine’s giveaway has helped increase those numbers. The Ohio Department of Health said the campaign had resulted in a 28% increase in the vaccination rate of those 16 and older. But the state’s overall vaccination rate has fallen slightly.
DeWine has called the plan successful and emphasized the increases in vaccination among younger residents as a big reason.
“We’re more than happy with the results,” he said at a news conference this week. “This was just so important to our future as a state -- our immediate future and our long-term future. Having more people vaccinated really allows us to get back to normal.”
More than 2.7 million adults have signed up for the $1 million prize since its announcement on May 12, and more than 104,000 children ages 12 to 17 entered the drawing for the college scholarship.
The Biden administration has praised the Ohio lottery. At a briefing Tuesday, the White House’s senior adviser on the coronavirus response, Andy Slavitt, applauded the program.
“Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has unlocked a secret: People do care about getting vaccinated, but it turns out they also have other things they care about,” he said.
Four more winners of the $1 million and a college scholarship will be announced each Wednesday for the next 4 weeks.