Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled a lottery system Wednesday to entice people to get COVID-19 shots, offering a weekly $1 million prize and full-ride college scholarships in a creative bid to overcome the vaccine hesitancy that remains a stubborn problem across the nation.
The move comes as governors, health officials and community leaders are coming up with creative incentives to get more shots in arms, including insider access to NFL locker rooms and an Indianapolis 500 garage, cash incentives, various other promotions.
With three weeks to go before most state restrictions lift, DeWine rolled out the big-ticket incentives during a prime-time address. Beginning May 26, adults who have received at least one vaccine dose may enter a lottery that will provide a $1 million prize each Wednesday for five weeks. In random drawings, the state will also provide five full four-year scholarships to an Ohio public university — including tuition, room-and-board, and books — to vaccinated Ohioans under 18.
The money will come from existing federal pandemic relief dollars, DeWine said, and the Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings.
State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, questioned the use of federal funds.
“Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis,” she said.
DeWine acknowledged the unusual nature of the financial incentives.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’” he said. But the real waste, when the vaccine is now readily available, “is a life lost to COVID-19,” the governor said.
The White House and Treasury Department had no immediate comment on the governor’s plan.
More than 4.2 million Ohioans — about 36 percent of the population — had completed the vaccination process as of Tuesday. But the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, down from figures above 80,000 in April. About 42 percent of Ohioans have received at least one dose.