California draws 15 winners of $50,000 vaccine prizes

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom played gameshow host Friday in a drawing for 15 winners of $50,000 prizes for getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“If you’re on the fence, if you’re just a little bit hesitant or you just were unwilling in the past but all the sudden you think, ‘Wait a sec, I could really use $50,000,’ we’re doing all of this to encourage that and to get you to think anew and hopefully act anew,” Newsom said at the California State Lottery headquarters, where he was flanked by a machine used to randomly choose winners and a Wheel of Fortune-style colored wheel for show.

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It was the first in a series of drawings for $16.5 million in prize money aimed at encouraging Californians to get their shots ahead of June 15, when the state plans to lift almost all virus-related restrictions. So far, 67% of eligible people 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state’s goal is to fully vaccinate at least 75% of people.

Newsom announced the prize money last week, warning the state’s vaccination rates were about to go off a cliff without an intervention. State officials said vaccine rates had dropped at the time by 18% from the week before.

In the week since Californians became eligible to win money, vaccinations were down 4% from the prior week, Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon said. One million vaccinations were given in the past week, she said.

Next week, another 15 people will win $50,000, and on June 15 there will be 10 grand prize winners who will get $1.5 million each — the largest of any vaccination prize in the country.

The winners will remain anonymous unless they give the state permission to share their names, and they have 96 hours to claim their prizes before the state draws alternate winners. The state will contact winners.

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