The best reason to get Covid-19 vaccine shots is, of course, to not have yourself, your loved ones or your neighbors get infected and potentially die from a virus that has killed almost 600,000 people in the U.S. But $1 million is a pretty good runner-up, I have to say.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday announced the "Vax-a-Million" program. Starting May 26, a random Ohioan will be drawn weekly from the Ohio secretary of state's voter registration date base to get $1 million — so long as they're vaccinated. Another five 12- to 17 year-olds will get the chance to sign up for a possible full-ride scholarship to a state college or university, again provided they're vaccinated.
As a former resident of Michigan, I'm loath to say anything positive about the state's southern neighbor. But this is actually a pretty genius idea from the Ohio government, especially given that "the Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds," as The Columbus Dispatch reported.
Absent a decent stick — aside from, you know, the risk of dying from a virus — we’ve been forced to find carrots to convince the masses.
Daily vaccination rates have plummeted even as more and more people have become eligible to get their shots. It's entirely possible that news that people who are fully vaccinated can go about their lives sans masks may change that and get folks who've been waiting to go in to see the local stabmonger.
But we've been hoping that more education will bring down hesitancy for months now. And while that may be the case among some demographics, others still stubbornly refuse to get vaccinated — looking at you, white Republican men. The Biden administration has so far ruled out any sort of penalty for people who aren't vaccinated; the Food and Drug Administration still hasn't approved any of the vaccines yet — it has only authorized them for emergency use, which isn't the same.
Absent a decent stick — aside from, you know, the risk of dying from a virus — we've been forced to find carrots to convince the masses. That has included encouraging selfies to handing out stickers to what we're seeing in Ohio now. So it may seem desperate at this point, but I can't be mad at any and all efforts to get people vaccinated.
It might not even take the full million bucks to sway people. Polling backs up the idea that offering smaller amounts of cold, hard cash could make a difference. UCLA's Covid-19 Health and Politics Project asked over 7,000 people who had yet to be vaccinated whether they'd be more likely to do so if they were paid for it. Thirty-four percent of respondents said $100 would make them more likely to make appointments; 31 percent said 50 bucks would do the trick.
So while Ohio has the highest potential payout, other states have been reaching out to people through their wallets. After a wildly successful rollout, West Virginia's lagging numbers prompted Gov. Jim Justice to propose giving $100 savings bonds to residents ages 16 to 35 who get vaccinated. (They're still working on how to deliver those bonds to the newly vaccinated.) As in Ohio, that money would come from federal Covid-19 funds already sent to the state.
It's not just money on offer. In Chicago, the city will have a series of free concerts that will be open only to people who can prove they're fully vaccinated. A hospital group in Alaska is giving away prizes, including airline tickets and money toward the purchase of an ATV. Here in New York City, Shake Shack is offering free fries when you buy a sandwich and flash your vaccination card. Krispy Kreme's decision to offer free donuts to the vaccinated set off a whole round of discourse about whether the company was encouraging obesity. (It wasn't, and the fatphobia was rightly shouted down.)
My favorite bribery scheme so far? Beer. In New Jersey, participating breweries will provide a free beer if you show your proof of vaccination as part of the state government's "Shot and a Beer" program. (Get it? It's a pun.) It's a better name than Erie County, New York's "Shot and a Chaser" program — but the latter is the best anecdotal evidence we have so far that these programs can get results, especially if you offer the shots at the brewery, too.
Are there arguments against bribing the masses to go get their shots? Sure. Back in January, when the vaccines were first being rolled out, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association argued that proposals to pay people up to $1,500 for getting vaccinated were a waste of funds and morally questionable and that they might even backfire.
In a climate characterized by widespread distrust of government and propensity to endorse conspiracy theories, those who are already COVID-19 vaccine hesitant might perceive that the government would not be willing to pay people to get vaccinated if the available vaccines were truly safe and effective. Incentive payments might also stoke new fears and, perversely, increase resistance to vaccination.
It's a well-reasoned set of concerns. But the article ends by noting that a "policy of paying people for Covid-19 vaccination should be adopted only as a last resort if voluntary vaccine uptake proves insufficient to promote herd immunity within a reasonable period of time."
That sounds a lot like, well, now. That means that if you're reading this in Ohio, good luck getting a windfall for doing the right thing. I'm rooting for you. It may be the only time I root for someone from Ohio, so savor this moment.