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COVID-19 vaccine lotteries did NOT increase rate of shots, study finds

The Ohio COVID-19 vaccine lottery did not lead to increased vaccination rates, a new study finds. 

Boston University researchers compared adult vaccination rates before and after the Vax-a-Million lottery was introduced in Ohio and other states.

They found that the lottery, which offered five million-dollar prizes and college scholarships, did not boost Ohio’s vaccination rate in any significant way.

This findings contradicts media reports at the time the lottery launched, which led other states to try similar programs. 

Those past reports failed to account for children ages 12 to 15 gaining vaccine access just two days before Ohio’s lottery launched.

The researchers say it’s important to phase out lotteries and other unsuccessful vaccination initiatives so that resources can instead be directed to the programs that do actually help people get their shots.

Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery was lauded as a success, but a new study finds that it did not actually increase vaccination rates. Pictured: A Kent University student gets vaccinated in Kent, Ohio

The researchers found similar vaccination declines in Ohio and other states without lotteries

The researchers found similar vaccination declines in Ohio and other states without lotteries

Ohio was the first state to introduce a vaccine lottery on May 12.

Called Vax-a-Million, the lottery allowed vaccinated Ohio residents to enter to win one million dollars. Prizes were awarded once a week for five weeks.

At the time, this lottery was heralded as a success.

Andy Slavitt, former advisor on the White House COVID response team, said the state saw a 55 percent increase in vaccinations for young adults. He claimed the vaccination rate even doubled in some Ohio counties.

As a result, the Biden administration encouraged other states to set up lotteries of their own – and allowed states to use federal funds for these programs. 

Many states followed Ohio’s lead, including California, Maryland, and New York – New York offered prizes up to five million dollars.

But there is little hard evidence suggesting that these lotteries actually boost vaccination rates in the long term.

In fact, the new study, published in JAMA, suggests that the Ohio lottery itself did not have much impact on vaccination in the state.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine compared vaccination rates in Ohio and other states before and after the Vax-a-Million lottery was announced. 

‘Prior evaluations of the Ohio vaccine incentive lottery did not account for other changes in COVID-19 vaccination rates in the United States,’ said lead author Dr Allan Walkey in a statement.

Notably, vaccine access was expanded to children between the ages of 12 and 15 just two days before Ohio announced its lottery. Past boasts of the lottery’s success didn’t account for this expansion, Walkey said.

Walkey and his colleagues focused on vaccination rates for adults in their investigation as a result.

The researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to compare adult vaccination rates in Ohio to rates in other states that didn’t yet have vaccine lotteries.

Ohio's adult vaccination rate declined in May, despite the state's Vax-a-Million lottery

Ohio’s adult vaccination rate declined in May, despite the state’s Vax-a-Million lottery

They looked at vaccination rates for one month before the Ohio lottery started – April 15 to May 12 – and one month after it was announced – May 13 to June 9.

In Ohio, the daily vaccination rate declined from April to June from 485 shots for every 100,000 adults in the state to 101 for every 100,000.

In other U.S. states without lotteries, the rate also declined from 700 shots for every 100,000 adults to 97 for every 100,000.

Ohio saw a slower decline in adult vaccinations compared to other states in May, after the vaccine lottery was announced.

But not enough people got vaccinated to actually raise the state’s vaccination rate, which had already been dropping in April.

In other words, the researchers wrote that they ‘did not find evidence’ that Ohio’s lottery increased vaccination rates.

They suggested that any vaccination bumps during the lottery’s early weeks were instead due to teenagers getting access to shots.

‘Our results suggest that state-based lotteries are of limited value in increasing vaccine uptake,’ Walkey said.  

‘Therefore, the resources devoted to vaccine lotteries may be more successfully invested in programs that target underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy and low vaccine uptake.’

Walkey suggested that, instead of expensive vaccine lotteries – giving out one million dollars at a time – states should focus on other strategies that may make better use of that cash.

Some experts say that grassroots efforts and partnerships with community organizations may be key to getting more people vaccinated, especially among groups that distrust the U.S. healthcare system.

‘It is important to rigorously evaluate strategies designed to increase vaccine uptake, rapidly deploy successful strategies, and phase out those that do not work,’ Walkey said.