© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ohio's Vaccine Lottery Proves An Effective Incentive


When Ohio's COVID-19 vaccination rate was plateauing, state officials realized they needed a new incentive. Enter Vax-a-Million. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow has more.

ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: Ohio's new weekly lottery broadcast had all the flash of the typical Wednesday night drawing, where they usually announce the winning numbers of the Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good evening, and welcome to the Vax-a-Million Giveaway where we will...

CHOW: But this time, instead of buying a lotto ticket, you only need a vaccination. The first drawing capped two weeks of buzz that started when Governor Mike DeWine said he was creating a $1 million lottery for anyone 18 and older who's vaccinated. A second lottery is for a full-ride college scholarship for those ages 12 to 17. DeWine was trying to jumpstart a sluggish vaccination rate in Ohio.


MIKE DEWINE: Some of you are now shaking your head and say, that Mike DeWine, he's crazy. This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money. But truly, the real waste is a life that is lost now to COVID-19.

CHOW: Crazy or not, the gimmick seems to be working. And the week after the lottery was announced, vaccinations soared 55% for residents ages 20 to 49. But it was almost off the chart for those in the 16 to 17 age group, which saw a 94% jump. Still, in the state House, some, like Republican Senator Niraj Antani, criticized DeWine's plan, saying the $5 million in federal relief funds would be better spent elsewhere.


NIRAJ ANTANI: A lottery idea isn't a bad one. Using taxpayer dollars - probably not something that we should be doing.

CHOW: Abbey Bugenske was the first million-dollar winner. The recent college grad was on her way to buy a used car when she got the news. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Joseph Costello was the first winner of the full-ride scholarship. His mother, Colleen, says the lottery encouraged them to vaccinate sooner than later.

COLLEEN COSTELLO: We were excited about the opportunity, and it definitely influenced our decision to get it in the timeframe that we got it.

CHOW: Ohio's vaccine lottery has sparked a national conversation over sweepstakes. Some states, like Maryland and Delaware, are offering smaller cash prizes but with more drawings. California has announced a lottery gambit totaling more than $116 million in giveaways. Kevin Bennett teaches psychology at Penn State University and says a lottery has a certain allure that can change human behavior.

KEVIN BENNETT: We're attracted to them because we tend to overestimate small percentages. Therefore, we like the idea of a small chance at winning a very large number, a million dollars or more. We actually prefer that over a small reward that is just guaranteed. So there's something about taking that risk.

CHOW: While there are legal attempts to force the state to drop the sweepstakes, Ohio is still scheduled to hold four more Vax-a-Million drawings.

For NPR News, I'm Andy Chow in Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.