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Ohio ‘Vax-a-Million’ lottery may not have worked, the study says


As COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to fall, several states have spent millions of dollars on lottery prizes to encourage unvaccinated Americans to get their shots fired.

The million dollar question: Do they work?

Public health experts say that while lotteries may push some people to be vaccinated, most will not be convinced.

The small chance of winning a major storm is not enough to sway the majority of unvaccinated Americans who are strongly opposed to the vaccine, have safety issues or do not want their daily lives disrupted by vaccine side effects, they say.

“For specific segments of the population, (lotteries) can be useful,” said Robert Bednarczyk, associate professor of global health and epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. “But it really comes down to who you’re trying to reach and how you can reach them?”

Some states have already declared their vaccination lotteries a success.

The California Department of Public Health said the state saw a 33% increase in vaccinations after announcing “Vax for the Win” and administered an average of 121,000 doses each day the first week of the program and about 161,000 daily doses the following week.

Nearly 3.5 million Ohioans participated in the state’s “Vax-a-Million” draw to win one of five $ 1 million prizes. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called it “a resounding success”, citing a 44% increase a week after launch. But a recent survey suggests the governor’s office may have been too early to declare victory.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that the Ohio lottery did not increase COVID-19 vaccination rates compared to other states without lottery-based incentive systems, according to the study published July 2 in the JAMA Network.

“When we heard the early reports that the lottery was working, we were a little skeptical,” said lead author Dr. Allan J. Walkey, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and a physician at Boston Medical Center.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study authors examined adult vaccination rates in Ohio four weeks before and after the lottery was announced and compared them with rates in states across the United States

While the decline in Ohio’s vaccination rates slowed after the lottery announcement, it sank even more in other U.S. states in the same time frame.

“Ohio followed the same trends as the rest of the country,” Walkey said.

DeWine’s press secretary Dan Tierney told the United States TODAY that the study was inaccurate because it used CDC data that reflected when dose administrations were reported, not when they got.


Over 2 million Ohioans are seeking vaccine lottery prizes

Ohio says the number of people who have signed up for the state’s Vax-a-Million lottery system has peaked at 2.7 million.


“Our data do not reflect the continued decline that BU survey graphs claim to show,” he said. “We believe that Ohio data based on the first dose start date is the most accurate measurement and that the data clearly shows a significant increase after the ‘Vax-a-Million’ announcement.”

The study also did not include vaccination rates among 16- and 17-year-olds who were eligible for the scholarship lottery under the same program.

Walkey, the study’s author, argues that other factors may have increased the state’s vaccination rates.

A few days before Ohio announced its May 12 lottery, the Food and Drug Administration extended the approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to include teens over the age of 12. Walkey said the FDA’s action – not the lottery – may have slightly increased vaccination rates in Ohio and other parts of the United States

Although researchers only looked at vaccination rates among those over 18, Walkey says adults may have been more motivated to get their shots after younger teens became eligible.

“There is something potential for that,” said Bednarczyk, who was not associated with the BU investigation. “If (teenagers) stand up for themselves, it can lead to their parents being dragged along with them, or it can turn into a family type like ‘We can all be vaccinated together. “”

The study is a “good initial look at the data,” but he says more research is needed to determine if lotteries succeed in increasing COVID-19 vaccinations. The study may mask the success of Ohio’s lottery program at the hyperlocal level.

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“When we look at these types of large imaging studies that try to look at the overall vaccination rates in a condition, it’s hard to really understand what’s going on, because even within the population of a state, there can be some pockets of people, there are more motivated, ”said Bednarczyk.

The same data from the CDC and local health departments could also tell a different story depending on how they are analyzed, said Rebecca Ortiz, assistant professor at Syracuse University’s SI Newhouse School of Public Communications.

“It all depends on how you look at the data. It’s been a battle we’ve had through all this,” she said. “You can look at the same exact data and analyze them differently and get different results, and that’s not wrong.”

Several other states followed Ohio’s leadership and conducted lotteries to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, including Louisiana, Maryland, New York, New Mexico, and West Virginia.

State lotteries that offer different levels of cash prizes, gift cards and amusement park tickets – like California – can lure people more than a big cash prize like the Ohio lottery, Bednarczyk said.

While the odds of drawing one of the five winning tickets were better than winning the Powerball, experts told WDTN-TV, but Ohioers were increasingly likely to be struck by lightning.

“If you look at a state of more than 10 million people and you potentially give five winning draws, people may not see as much motivation,” Bednarczyk said. “Their chances are so low that the chance of winning a big prize may not be enough to push people.”

A better option might be to give a small prize to any person who gets vaccinated, Ortiz added.

Prizes alone, however, do not convince the remaining unvaccinated Americans to get their COVID-19 shots. They need to be combined with traditional public health strategies that incorporate community leaders, county health departments, education and consistent outreach, experts say.

“Where lotteries might work best is a situation where there are a lot of people on the fence who do not have strong feelings for the vaccine,” Walkey said. “A lot of people are not like that … and a small chance of winning money is probably not the type of incentive that will change people with a very strong vaccine belief.”

Contribution: Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage in the USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for ethics, innovation and competition in healthcare. Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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