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Vax-a-Million falls short of high expectations

Ohio’s COVID-19 vaccination lottery created by Gov. Mike DeWine with high hopes of using the lure of cold, hard cash to influence Ohioans to roll up their sleeves apparently was more splash than substance.

Results of the so-called “Vax-a-Million” lottery, released when the promotion wrapped up last month, showed the state still failed to crack the 50 percent vaccination threshold it had been shooting for.

The contest, of course, gave away $1 million each week for five weeks to five lucky people picked randomly from among vaccinated people who registered for the drawing. Vaccinated students age 17 or under also had the chance at a full-ride college scholarship at a state university.

Indeed, the May 12 announcement of the incentive program had the desired effect in its first week, leading to a 43 percent bump in state vaccination numbers over the previous week.

But as we predicted in an editorial just days later, the increased vaccination rate was not sustained.

In my opinion, people lured to vaccination clinics during that first week probably always intended to get the shot, but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

After that week, the numbers of vaccinations dropped off again. But one thing DeWine’s idea did spur was for other states to spend money on similar ridiculous gimmicks.

Others included Louisiana, Maryland, New York, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Oregon and West Virginia. Despite giving away millions, none reported any drastic increase in vaccinations beyond a bump the first week or two after the contests were announced.

It’s apparent to me that none of these governors put enough weight on the fact that Americans care deeply about this issue, and very few were going to be swayed even with a chance at a million bucks.

Let’s face it. Some Americans believe strongly in the need for the vaccine and were lining up the minute it was available.

Others were just as strongly opposed to the idea of taking the shot being used under an “emergency use authorization,” rather than full approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Those folks don’t believe they need the shot to survive, and they’re standing their ground.

Personally, I call it impressive resolve, and frankly, I think it’s wildly refreshing to see Americans stand their ground on both sides of this issue.

That’s one of the reasons this newspaper’s editorial board, of which I’m a member, was so disappointed when Gov. DeWine initiated the lure of cash — taxpayer money, no less — in his attempt to motivate people to do something they were probably extremely opposed to doing.

As I write this, it occurs to me that readers may believe I’m attempting to justify the “anti-vax” attitude because I might personally be opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Such an assumption would be incorrect. I do understand the importance of the vaccine. I signed up days after it was made available to my age group, and I am now fully vaccinated. Most of my relatives and friends also have taken the shot — but not all of us.

As I read stories about increasing new COVID-19 numbers and the rise of the new “delta variant,” I do worry about the health of my relatives and friends who’ve opted against it.

But let’s not forget this is America, where we have free will. Here, we have the ability to research facts, to become educated and then to make our own decisions on important issues like this.

These funds were intended for COVID-19 relief, not a quick game of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Weeks later, DeWine continues to urge Ohioans to get vaccines. He has been traveling around the state sharing information and hoping to educate Ohioans about the risks and benefits.

Perhaps that approach — using facts and information rather than cash — is the one he should have taken all along.

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