This week the state of Ohio held a lottery for vaccinated people that gave a very lucky person $ 1 million. And while I’m upset that I, a vaccinated Ohioan, didn’t win, it looks like the lottery is going to kickstart the state’s vaccine rollout.
And this is how it works: Every Wednesday until June 23, the state randomly names two people from its database of vaccinated people. One of these people will be from the group of 12 to 17 year olds and receive a four-year full scholarship to an Ohio State college or university. The other lucky person comes from the 18 year old group and wins $ 1 million.
The lottery was announced on May 12th. Based on data from Ohio, the state saw first shots by people over 18 years old from May 14-19, compared to May 7-12, up 47 percent. and 17-year-olds in the same period. (There are no numbers for the 12-15 group as they were eligible for vaccines on the same day as the lottery announcement.)
On the flip side, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided by Jorge Caballero of Stanford shows that vaccination for people ages 18 and older in Ohio actually decreased by 22 percent during that period.
This is almost certainly due to a quirk of data reporting: while Ohio’s numbers are based on when a first shot was administered, the CDCs are based on when a first shot was reported. Hence, the Ohio data is more likely to capture the effect of the lottery in real time.
However, even the CDC data shows that Ohio’s vaccination numbers for the group over 18 have outperformed the US numbers since the lottery was announced, with the state ahead of the nation after falling behind in early May.
That suggests Ohio is doing something better than America as a whole. It could be the lottery. It could also be a completely different thing – maybe some local outreach groups in the state have really stepped up their efforts lately. We will need more rigorous analysis and study to know for sure.
But whether Ohio made the right move shouldn’t depend on the success or failure of the lottery – for these unusual, headline-making incentives should be tried by more states, even if they ultimately don’t work as well as we hoped.
Right now, America is in the midst of introducing vaccines. We could hit President Joe Biden’s goal of a 70 percent adult first shot rate by July 4th, but it could be a tight spot: Daily first shot rates have more than halved since peaking in mid-April and increasingly the problem is hesitation about the vaccine.
We don’t really know how to fix this. We are in the novel situation of trying to vaccinate the entire population quickly in the middle of a pandemic. So we don’t have that many proven solutions – and officials need a little creativity and flexibility to figure out what works.
This is where these incentives come into play. This includes a lottery that some other states are now emulating in some form, but also other approaches such as $ 100 payouts and free beer with the vaccines.
Yes, it’s a bit sad that some Americans need incentives to get a potentially life-saving vaccine while many places around the world are desperate for more vaccinations.
But when incentives are needed, we cannot ignore this reality – the commitment in the fight against Covid-19 is too high.
Not all of these efforts will be successful, and some can even end up as costly mistakes. But it’s worth taking these risks. Otherwise we will have a harder time figuring out what works.