Oct 21, 2021 - COVID
No vaccine rate bump with latest Ohio vax lottery
Data: Ohio Department of Health; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

It's been nearly a month since the Vax-2-School lottery was announced, yet no drawings are scheduled and Ohio's COVID-19 vaccination rate remains stagnant.

Why it matters: The latest attempt at a vaccine lottery was meant to target younger Ohioans who have the lowest vaccination rates in the state.

Catch up quick: The Vax-2-School lottery, which mirrored the Vax-A-Million scholarship drawings in earlier 2021, was announced Sept. 23 to offer scholarship money to vaccinated residents between 12-25 years old.

  • The state announced a random draw of 150 $10,000 scholarships and five grand prize winners of $100,000. Paid for by coronavirus relief funding, the scholarships can be used at any Ohio college, university or trade school.
  • These new drawings were initially slated for mid-October, but have since been postponed indefinitely.

By the numbers: Ohio has not registered any major uptick in vaccinations since Vax-2-School was announced.

  • Among all Ohioans eligible for the lottery, the vaccination rate is up just 2%.
  • Over the past month, the overall vax rate has increased by a single percentage point.

Context: The vaccine lottery was announced on the same day the Ohio Hospitals Association warned of a "dire situation in our state" with rising COVID cases and hospitalizations.

  • In a letter to Gov. Mike DeWine, the association noted "the increasing stress that Ohio’s hospitals are under in dealing with the rapid increase in COVID-19 patients."
  • Hospitals had recorded a 16-fold increase in COVID patients between mid-July and Sept. 23.
  • These patients trended younger than at any earlier point in the pandemic.

What's next: Ohio Department of Health spokesperson Alicia Shoults tells Axios that they want to allow time for a vaccine emergency use authorization for Ohioans aged 5-11 to make them eligible before holding the lottery.

Yes, but: Researchers have once again poured cold water on the effectiveness of vaccine lottery programs.

Driving the news: A new study by four economics and health policy professors concluded the earlier Ohio Vax-A-Million drawings, and similar incentives from other states, did little to impact vaccination rates.

  • Earlier research has offered mixed reviews on lottery programs.
  • Vax-A-Million was launched as vaccine eligibility expanded to include teenagers, which may have been a greater contributor to the spike seen last spring.

Why it matters: Ohio may need to find alternative ways to convince the large swath of vaccine skeptics to get their shots.Flashback: The Vax-A-Million sweepstakes was the first of its kind, promising seven-figure rewards to a handful of vaccinated Ohioans.

  • Many other states followed, some spreading out rewards to a wider number of winners. DeWine preferred to give away a select few grand prizes.

What they said: In a New York Times opinion column, DeWine quoted former Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck: “To give one can of beer to a thousand people is not nearly as much fun as to give 1,000 cans of beer to one guy.”

What researchers found: The study reviewed months of vaccine data from 19 states which created lottery programs and determined there was little effect on vaccine rates.

  • "Estimates of the association between an announcement and vaccination rates were very small in magnitude and statistically indistinguishable from zero," per a summary of the results.
  • Researchers suggested lottery-style drawings may be less effective than automatic incentives for vaccinated Americans.
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