Did California’s vaccine lottery work? Here’s what the data shows

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Gov. Gavin Newsom says an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations following the state’s first vaccine lottery drawing shows his incentive program worked.

Speaking at an event at a Six Flags park in Valencia on Tuesday, Newsom highlighted a week-over-week increase in overall doses administered, which includes second shots for people who received the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“Turns out, these incentives have worked,” he said of the state’s $116 million program of lottery prizes and gift cards.

State figures show there was a significant rise in the number of vaccine doses administered from June 4-10 compared to the previous week. But the previous week included three unusually slow vaccination days over Memorial Day weekend, making a week-to-week increase more likely.

Also, the increase was almost entirely due to a jump in second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. It came three weeks after 12-15 year-olds became eligible for the Pfizer vaccine on May 13.

The timing suggests that newly eligible teens were getting their second doses, rather than a spike in Californians getting shots for the first time, a Sacramento Bee review of vaccine data found.

Around May 13-19, there was a large rise in Californians getting their first vaccine dose as compared to the prior week, likely due to newly-eligible teens. Medical experts recommend that patients get their second Pfizer dose three weeks after receiving their first.

Looking only at first vaccine doses tells a different story.

The number of Californians with at least one vaccine dose increased by about 346,000 from June 4-10, the lowest weekly increase since early January, state figures show.

The number of Californians getting their first vaccine dose increased modestly on May 28, the day after Newsom announced the lottery and incentives. That day, the number of Californians with at least one vaccine dose increased by about 89,800, compared to an increase of 79,600 the day before, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The jump did not appear to last long.

The number of Californians with at least one dose of vaccine grew by about 1,478,000 in the 15 days before Newsom announced the lottery, as newly-eligible teens lined up to get their first dose, according to Department of Public Health data. In the 15 days after the announcement, it increased by about 772,000.

State officials have pointed out that vaccinations have been slowing across the country, and that original goal of the lottery was to slow the decline in California. Newsom spokesman Alex Stack said administration officials had predicted a lull in vaccinations that the incentives seem to have staved off.

“It’s exactly what we launched the program to do,” he said.

Stack also credited the program with increasing the second dose completion rate from 89% on the day the program was launched to 92% on Wednesday.

Other states have also created their own lotteries to boost vaccinations. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine has said the lottery there helped boost vaccinations by 45%.

About 72% of California adults are now at least partially vaccinated, Newsom said this week. That puts California in the top 13 states with the highest vaccination rates, according to a New York Times tracker.

In the last two weeks, California has awarded $16.5 million in lottery prize money to winners across the state. Newsom played game show host at the drawings, festive events featuring confetti explosions and dancing mascots, where he interviewed medical workers and prize winners about the importance of getting vaccinated.

For the $1.5 million grand prize drawing on Tuesday, the day his administration dropped most COVID-19 rules including its statewide mask mandate, he helped announce the winners at Universal Studios surrounded by park workers in Minion and troll costumes.

All vaccinated California residents were entered into the drawings, even those vaccinated prior to the lottery announcement, Newsom said. The state also gave out $100 million worth of $50 gift cards to people who signed up to get vaccinated after he announced the incentive program.

The state will hold another prize drawing July 1, when people can win one of six vacations to various tourist destinations throughout California, including Palm Springs and Anaheim.

Newsom has also touted free giveaways from private companies for people who get vaccinated, including free tacos from Taco Bell and free tickets to Six Flags.

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