Gun giveaway decried as ‘desperate attempt to bribe’ West Virginians to get COVID shot

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Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can earn West Virginia residents guns, custom-outfitted trucks, a weekend getaway and even $1.5 million.

The prizes are part of an incentive lottery program aimed at encouraging the state’s residents to get vaccinated. It’s been harshly criticized, however, by residents who call the campaign a “desperate attempt to bribe” West Virginians.

At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice outlined the new lottery program, which kicks off June 20 on Father’s Day and runs through August 4. Vaccinated residents, and those soon-to-be vaccinated, have a shot a winning a $1.58 million grand prize for getting a prick in the arm.

Five custom shotguns, five custom hunting rifles and five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses are also up for grabs during the Father’s Day drawing, according to a news release.

“The faster we get people across the finish line the more lives we save. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said Tuesday. “If the tab just keeps running, the cost is enormous. The hospitalizations are enormous. The deaths are really, really bad. We have to get all of our folks across the finish line.”

Other prizes include two four-year scholarships to any West Virginia institution (for residents between 12 and25 years old); two brand-new, custom-outfitted Rocky Ridge pick-up trucks; and 25 weekend vacations to West Virginia state parks.

Residents who’ve received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine are eligible, Justice said. As of Wednesday, 51% of West Virginians have gotten their first dose and 41% are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Not everyone was wooed by the incentives and voiced their dismay on the governor’s Facebook page.

“That’s BS to pay people to get the vaccine or to enter them in a drawing,” one resident commented under Justice’s post announcing the incentive program. “Ridiculous ! Personal accountability is long overdue in this state.”

“Bribery and coercion! Shameful!” another wrote.

“Where is that million dollars coming from?” someone else asked.

Other states have rolled out similar incentive programs aimed at getting more people vaccinated. In Ohio, five $1 million prizes will be raffled off as part of its “Vax-a-Million” lottery, McClatchy News previously reported. So far, New Mexico has touted the single largest grand prize: $5 million, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The push to persuade people to get inoculated using prizes also spread to South Carolina where state Rep. and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) proposed a similar lottery program funded by some of the state’s coronavirus relief aid, the Associated Press reported.

“I think the message of the State of South Carolina should be clear. Get vaccinated: protect yourself, protect those around you, and you just might win a million dollars,” Rutherford said in a statement.

West Virginia’s vaccine incentive program is “still in development,” a representative for Gov. Justice’s office told McClatchy News. Details on how to apply and how the program will be funded are “forthcoming.”

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