DeWine offers $100,000 scholarships to encourage vaccinations

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Sep. 23—COLUMBUS — "We gotta throw the football. We gotta try to make something happen," Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday as he announced another round of lottery incentives to drive up vaccination rates, this time among younger Ohioans.

Over five consecutive days, Oct. 11-15, Ohio will hold lotteries for those between the ages of 12 and 25, dangling big prizes of $100,000 college scholarships as well as 15 smaller prizes of $10,000 scholarships.

The Ohio Vax-2-School Program would generally mirror the spring's five-week Vax-a-Million lottery program for vaccinated adults with $1 million prizes and full-ride scholarships for those under 18.

Again, the governor will use federal coronavirus dollars to pay the tab, but he said the investment would still be worth it even if the state had to pay for it itself. The future of Ohio's people and economy is at stake, he said.

"Every day when we get more Ohioans who are vaccinated, that's fewer people that are going to end up in the hospital, fewer people who are going to die, and fewer people who are going to spread it," Mr. DeWine said. "...So yeah, it's really worth it. This money is money well spent, whether it was state funds or federal."

Mr. DeWine drew both praise and scorn when he announced Vax-a-Million last spring. The vaccination rate climbed initially with the governor estimating about 100,000 additional vaccinations, but the effect didn't last long. The daily uptake rate remains stubbornly slow, and Ohio trails the national averages in terms of its vaccinated population.

While older populations have generally heeded the call for vaccinations, only about 46 percent of those between the ages of 12 and 25 have rolled up their sleeves. It's the one area where the state has the most room to grow, Mr. DeWine said.

Specifics on how the incentives will work will come next week from the Ohio Lottery Commission, which oversaw the last round when Ohioans signed up by providing verifiable information about their vaccinations.

"I can't guarantee that this will work," the governor said. "But I think it's got a good shot at working, a good chance at working ... and it's worth trying," he said. "Our experience, in regard to the Vax-a-Million was good. There have been a number of studies done. The vast majority of those studies indicated that it did have an impact. We think it's somewhere between 120,000 and 130,000 extra people. We'll never know for sure."

Despite such programs, the overall percentage of Ohio's population that has completed a cycle of shots — either both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson — remains below 50 percent.

Among all Ohioans, 53.6 percent have gotten at least one shot while 62.6 percent of those over the current eligibility age of 12 have done so. That compares to 49.7 percent and 58 percent, respectively, among those who've completed the cycle.

In a letter sent to the governor Thursday, Mike Abrams, president and CEO of the Ohio Hospital Association, warned of staffing shortages as hospitals experience a 16-fold increase in coronavirus patients since July. While one in 100 patients were coronavirus patients in mid-July, today that ratio is one in six.

"This crisis is not a function of hospitals being unwilling to hire additional staff," the letter reads. "It is a function of there simply not being enough willing participants in the health-care workforce to staff hospitals through this current surge of the pandemic."

Ohio reported 7,475 new infections on Wednesday, continuing to raise the three-week average, now at 6,580. But it remains below the delta-era peak of just over 9,000 cases nearly two weeks ago.

New hospitalizations and intensive-care unit admissions remained on the high side at 300 and 24, respectively. The state did not update death numbers on Thursday.

Mr. DeWine's proposal was slammed by former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, one of Mr. DeWine's opponents for the GOP nomination in next year's election.

"Mike DeWine already failed with his disastrous vaccine lottery earlier this year that did not make a tangible impact at all, while wasting taxpayer dollars," he said. "This would be more of the same. Between DeWine forcing our children to wear masks and continuing to stay silent while Joe Biden imposes vaccine mandates against Ohio businesses, the radical, liberal agenda of Mike DeWine is killing Ohio."

First Published September 23, 2021, 3:45pm

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