Ohio vs Michigan: Which state's vaccine lottery will spur more shots?

·8 min read

Jul. 14—Ohio and Michigan aren't just competitive on the football field: A friendly rivalry is also underway to determine which state's lottery will be more successful in spurring coronavirus vaccines amid some concerns that monetary incentives don't actually work.

Michigan on Wednesday is announcing the first winners of its "Shot To Win" sweepstakes, a program mirrored after Ohio's Vax-a-Million lottery, only "bigger and better," Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in announcing the contest on July 1.

Where Ohio offered five $1 million prizes and five full-ride scholarships, which state officials say helped to drive 550,000 new vaccinations over a five-week period, Michigan is offering daily $50,000 prizes, a $1 million prize, a $2 million prize, and nine full-ride scholarships in hopes it will motivate the 614,000 vaccinations needed for the state to reach herd immunity.

"I'll be the first to admit that Ohio changed the game on incentives when they announced their vaccine lottery," said Kerry Ebersole Singh, director of the Protect Michigan Commission created to promote and educate about the vaccine. "While we're still leading Ohio in our vaccine rate, we need to infuse some urgency to continue our path to hit our 70 percent goal. We think the sweepstake is going to help us do that."

So far, Michigan's results haven't been quite as dramatic as Ohio's.

Immediately after Gov. Mike DeWine announced the Vax-a-Million lottery, Ohio had its highest vaccination day in three weeks, with more than 25,400 vaccines administered that Friday. It was followed by a 45 percent increase in first shots after that first week.

By comparison, Michigan "didn't see an immediate uptick," which Ms. Ebersole Singh attributed to the Fourth of July holiday. But it does seem to be picking up steam now, she said.

The state has reported more than 50,000 new vaccinations in the last 12 days.

Even more encouraging, she said, a review of Michigan's vaccination rate since July 7 showed a 135 percent increase compared with rates in New York, Alabama, and Ohio, which all saw decreases.

As of Tuesday, more than 700 of those new vaccinations came from Monroe County.

Kim Comerzan, the county's health officer, assumes the sweepstakes have something to do with the uptick.

Some Monroe County residents who wanted the vaccine got it in Toledo.

But they couldn't compete for Ohio's million-dollar prize, so there wasn't much of an incentive for others still on the fence to get theirs.

Now, residents not only have their own shot at $1 million, but the daily $50,000 winners are drawn only from the pool of people who received their shot that very day.

That means the chance of winning a daily cash prize is one in a couple thousand for newly vaccinated residents, rather than the 1.7 million residents competing for the $1 and $2 million prizes.

"I imagine it's going to spur some additional vaccinations across the state," Ms. Comerzan said. "We've had a number of calls since it was announced."

While residents vaccinated in Michigan can enter the sweepstakes through the MI Shot To Win website, those who received their shot in Ohio need to present their vaccination card to their local health department to be validated, she said.

There are questions, though, about whether big cash prizes actually spur vaccinations or whether that money could be better spent.

A Boston University School of Medicine study, published July 2, alleged that Ohio's million-dollar incentive "was not associated with an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations," because other states also saw boosts around the same time.

Instead, the study suggests that any rise in vaccinations was more likely the result of expanded eligibility to 12 to 15-year-olds.

"Our results suggest that state-based lotteries are of limited value in increasing vaccine uptake. Therefore, the resources devoted to vaccine lotteries may be more successfully invested in programs that target underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy and low vaccine uptake," said Allan J. Walkey, a physician at Boston Medical Center who was involved in the study.

The authors said they hope their findings will lead to a shift in focus away from "ineffective and expensive lotteries," and onto other programs that may more successfully increase vaccine uptake.

But Michigan, Delaware, Colorado, Oregon, Maryland, New York, and Kentucky all have already followed Ohio's lead, announcing cash prizes of their own, in addition to other incentives.

Governor DeWine previously touted his lottery's success in spurring vaccinations, saying he was "very, very happy with the way it's turned out," and his office stood by that position Tuesday.

His spokesman, Dan Tierney disagreed with the Boston University study's conclusion, calling it "flawed."

"Our data does not reflect the continued decline the BU study graphs claim to show," Mr. Tierney said, pointing to state data that showed significant increases in vaccination rates the first week after the announcement, even in groups that had long been eligible.

He also questioned the study's use of the date a vaccination was reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which can lag days behind when the dose was actually administered.

Ohio tracks doses by the date administered.

"We believe the Ohio data based upon first dose start date is the most accurate measure if you are doing a study on if an event caused you to get a vaccine within specific days of that event, and that data clearly shows a significant increase after the Vax-a-Million announcement," Mr. Tierney said.

Governor DeWine isn't done offering incentives, either.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported he will be unveiling a new coronavirus vaccination incentive within the next week to spur even more shots. Details were not provided, but the governor hinted it could involve smaller amounts of money to increase the odds of more people winning.

Some residents in Toledo previously told The Blade that the lottery was their reason for being vaccinated, especially after Toledoan Jonathan Carlyle won $1 million the second week. Others said it didn't factor in at all.

While getting her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a pop-up clinic outside Almost Human Coffee in Toledo on Monday, Malacia Jackson, 48, said she didn't even know the Vax-a-Million lottery had occurred or that the health department is currently offering $15 gift cards to those who get their shot now.

It isn't money she has been waiting on, she said: Her mother and sisters had already received their shot and she had made up her mind to get hers, because she has severe asthma. Rather, she was waiting on convenience.

She happened upon Monday's clinic by coincidence and decided on the spot to stop.

"I had called around before and places were filled or I couldn't talk to someone. I even called my doctor and they were on lunch, so I stopped trying," Ms. Jackson said. "Then I saw this and they said I didn't need an appointment, so I got it.

"If people see things like this, I'm pretty sure people would stop," she said.

Only seven other residents took advantage of the clinic during the eight hours it was stationed outside the coffee shop.

But data provided by the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department suggests most of the pop-up clinics held at various locations throughout the city each week do seem to pull in stragglers.

It reported 267 vaccines administered last week. A small percentage went to homebound residents or individuals coming into port, but the majority of shots went to residents who stopped at one of 13 pop-up clinics held at area farmers markets, the health department, or the roving TARTA bus.

Still, there is an estimated 20 percent of the population that health officials know can't be swayed by convenience, gift cards, free booze and donuts, or even a million dollars.

A man helping to set up Monday's vaccination clinic at the coffee shop, for example, said the only way he would be vaccinated would be if his family were being held hostage and he had to get the shot to save them.

He doesn't trust the government or the vaccine, and his 60-year-old father survived the virus, he said, declining to give his name because he was on the job.

That won't stop officials from trying to reach every individual, Ms. Ebersole Singh said, and she's willing to use any incentive she can to encourage more vaccinations, whether they work as hoped or not.

"Let me say this, what we are dealing with coronavirus is very much a life and death scenario," she said. "At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we've turned over every stone and tried every tactic to help protect our communities."

First Published July 13, 2021, 6:43pm

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