Jun. 23—Since the May 12 announcement of Ohio's Vax-a-Million lottery, more than 550,000 Ohioans have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The goal of the incentive was to boost vaccination rates at a time when interest was waning in an effort to push the state closer to the 70 percent compliance rate officials estimate is needed to reach herd immunity.
As the lottery comes to an end this week, five million dollars and five full-ride scholarships later, the state's vaccination rate falls far short of that goal, with less than 50 percent of the population inoculated. But that doesn't mean Vax-a-Million failed, officials say.
"I'm happy, very, very happy with the way it's turned out," Gov. Mike DeWine said during his news briefing last week, referencing a 28-percent increase in vaccination the first week after the announcement.
"It certainly got people's attention at a time when we needed to get peoples' attention about getting vaccinated," Mr. DeWine's spokesman, Dan Tierney, further defended to The Blade on Tuesday. "At the time we announced Vax-a-Million, the entire country was experiencing a decline in vaccinations."
At least 20,112 of the vaccines given after May 12 went to Lucas County residents, the state's dashboard shows. Those new shots increased the county's total vaccinated population by about 10 percent since the vaccine became available on Dec. 15.
Another 6,147 Wood County residents received the shot in that time, comprising about 9 percent of its total vaccinated population.
"I do think that definitely played a role in it," Eric Zgodzinski, health commissioner with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said of the lottery. "Just looking at where we were prior to the announcement; we definitely saw an increase."
And though both Lucas and Wood counties' vaccination rates also sit below the 70 percent threshold, at 46 and 51 percent, respectively, the counties are still reaping benefits, he argued.
"We have almost 200,000 vaccines started. That's a lot of people. We have a little bit of ability to fight off these variants that are coming in," Mr. Zgodzinski said. "I wish we were close to that 70 percent, of course, but every vaccination counts."
And every vaccination, up until Sunday, was a chance to win $1 million or, for those aged 12 to 17, a college scholarship. Toledo already claimed one winner, Amazon driver Jonathan Carlyle, who won the second week.
New residents continued to opt into the drawing up until the last minute.
Wednesday's winners, who will be announced at about 7:29 p.m., were picked from a pool of 3,469,542 adult entries and 154,889 youth, the Ohio Department of Health said in a news release Monday. That marks an increase of 41,028 adult entries and 4,702 scholarship entries from the previous week, the release said.
Of those, 120,686 adult entrants were Lucas County residents and 42,595 were Wood County residents, ODH said. For the youth scholarship, 5,782 Lucas County teens signed up, and 2,271 Wood County teens did.
Prior to the lottery, Ohioans had been segregating into four main camps.
On opposing ends were those who were eager to get the vaccine and signed up as soon as eligible, and those who said they definitively will not get the vaccine. But in the middle were those who were undecided or waiting a little longer to see how others fared with the vaccine first, and those who wanted the vaccine but were delaying the decision, for whatever reason.
In that latter group, Mr. Tierney said the state heard from people who didn't oppose the vaccine but were putting it off indefinitely to avoid side effects around the time of their vaccination or until after finals or prior to a wedding.
"So Vax-a-Million ended up being very helpful for that group because there certainly were individuals who said, Ok, this pushed me over the edge," Mr. Tierney said.
And having those people vaccinated now better protects them against getting sick or spreading the virus, especially heading into the fall, and it protects everyone else in the state against numerous more contagious variants circulating.
Ohio is already seeing that.
In early June, the state's incident rate fell below the 50 cases per 100,000 population threshold, and has stayed there.
Wood County, on Monday, reported a rate of 10.7 cases per 100,000 population and an average of 1.2 new coronavirus infections a day.
Lucas County does not independently track its infection rate now that the state stopped reporting it, but based on case counts Mr. Zgodzinski estimated it is between 20 to 25 cases per 100,000 population. The county is averaging about 7 new infections per day.
"It used to be 14 (new infections per day) a couple weeks ago," Mr. Zgodzinski said. "And it was 50 to 80 per day before that."
Nationwide, coronavirus deaths have dipped below 300 a day for the first time since the pandemic began, knocking it out of third place on the list of leading causes of death in the U.S.
Deaths in Ohio have fallen to about 10 per day, Mr. DeWine estimated during his June 17 news briefing.
All of those positives are because of the vaccine, officials said. But those numbers could still be better, they agreed.
They could be zero.
There's a "fundamental difference between your safety if you're vaccinated and your safety if you're not vaccinated," Mr. DeWine said in his briefing. "On the one hand you're safe. On the other, you're not."
To continue to encourage vaccinations beyond the Vax-a-Million lottery, the state is considering announcing new incentives, Mr. Tierney said. He could not discuss details about what those incentives may be.
Lucas County is continuing with its own incentives.
As it begins to dismantle the mass vaccination site at the Lucas County Rec Center, the health department is finding new ways to reach residents where they are, not just at area clinics, Mr. Zgodzinski said.
Anyone aged 21 and older who was vaccinated at the Hollywood Casino Toledo on Monday received $20 in free slot play. On Friday, The Ottawa Tavern is giving a free "Black Parade" shot to anyone over the age of 21 who gets their shot at the onsite clinic that night.
On July 10, Stanley's Market will be giving a complementary kielbasa griller sandwich to anyone vaccinated at its clinic.
The health department may also start offering gift cards in an attempt to encourage more people to roll up their sleeves. Whatever it takes, Mr. Zgodzinski stressed.
"The immediate issue is what's coming down over the next couple of months," he said. "We don't know how those variants are going to actually move through the community. It appears right now that those vaccines are holding up well against the variants, but, again, the way we protect each other, our families, and our community is by getting vaccinated."
First Published June 23, 2021, 8:00am