May 21—One week after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the Vax-a-Million lottery one thing is clear: money talks, just maybe not as loudly as the state hoped.
Health officials had been urging Ohio residents for months to receive the shot in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, avoid hospitalizations, and save lives, but public interest began to wane toward the end of April with still less than 40 percent of the population vaccinated. Then, Mr. DeWine upped the stakes, times a million.
The arms began to bare.
"I thought it was important [to be vaccinated] already, but being 31, no kids, no mortgage, I didn't see myself as a priority," Price Murphy said, leaving the Lucas County Recreation Center, where he'd just received his Johnson & Johnson shot. "Then they put out the Vax-a-Million and what a good reason to get it done."
Others apparently had the same idea.
In the week following the announcement that five vaccinated adults would each receive $1 million and five youth would receive four-year, full-ride scholarships the number of vaccinations being administered across the state increased by 28 percent, a joint news release from the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Lottery said.
The weekend before the governor made the announcement, vaccinations had been down 25 percent compared with April 30 to May 3 weekend, the release said.
"This dramatic increase in vaccinations indicates that the Vax-a-Million drawing has been impactful in creating momentum for vaccinations throughout Ohio," Stephanie McCloud, ODH director, said. "We are grateful that the drawings are helping spur Ohioans to take this important measure to protect their health, their loved ones, and their community. Vaccines are our best tool to return to the lives we remember from before the pandemic."
Some Lucas County residents do seem to have been immediately swayed by the cash.
In the week since the announcement was made, 4,053 new vaccinations were started in the county and 5,014 vaccinations were completed. That's a 26 percent increase in new vaccinations over the week prior to May 12.
Specifically, the Friday following the announcement the county administered 1,141 shots, the most in a single day since April 16, the state's vaccination dashboard shows.
"So it appears there was an uptick after the announcement," Eric Zgodzinski, health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said. "With the Vax-a-Million program, I'm sure there were some people that thought, well, for a chance to win a million dollars I was going to maybe get it anyway, so I'll go ahead and get it."
Youth, his staff tells him, say they are more motivated by avoiding quarantine time than the scholarships.
"So I do believe that some people do need an incentive but that incentive is different for everybody," Mr. Zgodzinski said.
For now, Lucas County's vaccination rate lags behind the state's. Across Ohio, about 43 percent of the population has received at least one shot. In Lucas County, 42 percent of residents have.
Wood County, with a significantly smaller population, has consistently fared better. Over 48 percent of its population is vaccinated.
But Wood County Health Commissioner Ben Robison wonders if the money or the influx of 12 to 15-year-olds, who also became eligible to receive the vaccine on the same day as the lottery announcement, is driving the spike in numbers.
Two days after both changes, the county administered 466 vaccines, the most in a single day since April 15.
"We have seen more vaccines this week since last week," Mr. Robison said. "But from what our nurses are saying out at the clinics, it's a lot of kids being vaccinated."
Falling infection rates in Wood County allowed it to be downgraded to "orange" on Thursday on the state's public health advisory system, meaning the incident rate is receding after months of being among the highest in the state. Wood County's rate fell to 38th in the state at 81 cases per 100,000 population, and Lucas County, which remains red and had been leading the state, fell to 9th at 134.2/ 100,000 population.
Officials aren't picky about what incentives will continue to drive that trend.
"I think that there are individuals who really will be motivated by these efforts," Mr. Robison said.
A million dollars isn't the only incentive that has been offered throughout the push toward herd immunity, the roughly 70 percent vaccination rate that health officials have said the population needs to reach in order to keep the virus at bay.
Free rides to the clinic could have been an incentive. Time off work to attend an on-site clinic could be another. And then there are the more obvious rewards — Earnest Brew Works offered a free beer to those who were vaccinated last week, and three clinics being held at Toledo bars Thursday through Saturday this week are running take-a-shot-get-a-shot promotions.
The first was held Thursday at Manhattan's Pub 'n Cheer. Others seeking a free shot of alcohol can claim their prize either 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday at Toledo Spirits, or from 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday at The Blarney Irish Pub or at Ye Olde Cock n Bull near Fifth Third Field.
Most of the people who agreed to talk to The Blade after receiving their vaccine on Thursday said they'd either started the process prior to the million-dollar announcement or hadn't been motivated by any gimmicks.
"I'm motivated by not having the virus," JD Ashford, 67, said after receiving his final dose. "It would be nice to win a million dollars but your health is more important."
Jennifer Martin, 39, said she got her first shot Thursday "for my dad's health."
Francine Suydam, 62, did it to protect her husband, who has an autoimmune deficiency, and her son, who works in a nursing home. Both had already received theirs.
Nineteen-year-old Brian Thebes did it for his future.
"I graduated class of 2020, so I'd lost a lot already," he said.
They all were noncommittal about whether they'd sign up for the lottery.
Mr. Murphy wasn't ashamed that the offered prize finally got him to the door. He signed up for the lottery on his phone, while waiting the required 15 minutes after vaccination.
He also had a little time to dream about how he could practically use the money, should he win.
"I'd pay off my college loan. I'd buy a modest house. I'd pay off my car," he said.
First Published May 20, 2021, 2:44pm