Vax for cash with new $116.5M statewide lottery
For Californians who are insufficiently compelled by civic duty and self-preservation to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom is offering another reason to get the jab: cold, hard cash.
On May 27, Newsom announced a $116.5 million "Vax for the Win" program, the largest inoculation lottery program in the country. The money will be split among dozens of lucky Californians: $1.5 million to each of 10 "grand cash prize" winners who will be picked by random draw on June 15, and $50,000 each to 30 "Fridays for 30" winners to be selected by random draw on June 4 and June 11.
The remaining $100 million will pay for $50 retail gift cards for each of the next 2 million Californians to complete their vaccine regime.
"These are real incentives," the governor said at a press conference. "And these are an opportunity to say thank you to those not only seeking to get vaccinated, as we move forward, but also those that have been vaccinated."
According to the most recent state vaccine data, a little more than half of all Californians over age 12 have been fully vaccinated. Another 13% have received one of two shots.
That still leaves more than 12 million Californians unvaccinated.
The percentage vaccinated varies wildly by race and income. Among Californians living in the top quarter of the healthiest ZIP codes, 76.6% have received at least one dose. In the least healthy quarter in the state's "Healthy Places" Index, the share is only 52.1%.
"Some Californians weren't ready to get their COVID-19 vaccine on day one, and that's okay. This program is designed to encourage those who need extra support to get vaccinated and help keep California safe," Dr. Tom?s Arag?n, director of the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement.
H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for the state Department of Finance, said the lottery funding will initially come out of the state's emergency operations account, but will be repaid with the state's multi-billion dollar allotment of federal relief funds.
"The cost of not getting vaccinated is exponentially, incalculably higher," Newsom said.
The governor noted that Californians who have already been inoculated will be entered into both the $1.5 million and $50,000 contests. When the state rolled out its MyTurn website as a one-stop shop for vaccine appointments, most Californians turned elsewhere. But the state also maintains a confidential registry of all vaccine recipients. The names of winners will be kept confidential unless they volunteer to have them released, said Newsom.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio was the first to launch a lottery program in mid-May. Nearly 3 million Ohioans entered and a 22-year-old recent college grad was the first winner on May 26. According to one analysis, vaccinations jumped by 40% in the week after DeWine's announcement.
Since then other state governors have followed suit. Colorado is offering a total of $5 million to the newly inoculated. West Virginia has tempted vaccine-hesitant young residents with savings bonds, and New York has dangled the possibility of a public university education.
But California's cash giveaway is the biggest yet.
For Newsom, the program represents a political win-win. The governor has vowed to ease most of California's COVID restrictions by June 15. The more vaccinated Californians, the more likely it is that the reopening process will go off without another surge in cases and hospitalizations. That, in turn, would be good news for the state, but also for a governor who is hoping to survive a recall election later this year.
In a Public Policy Institute of California poll released last month, 57% of likely voters said they oppose removing Newsom, while 40% said they supported the recall. In the survey, 61% approved of Newsom's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and 75% gave the state excellent or good marks for vaccine distribution.
Last month, the governor went on a statewide tour announcing various goodies from his latest revenue-rich budget proposal — a convenient mix of policymaking and politics. Handing out even more cash to Californians in the name of public health can't hurt the governor's political image either.
Republican John Cox quickly accused Newsom of trying to "buy votes before the recall."
Based on the nearly 20 million Californians who have received at least one dose now, the odds of winning the $1.5 million prize are 1 in 2 million — 100 times better than the chances of winning the Powerball or Mega Millions jackpots, but for far less money.
Newsom said the administration consulted with researchers at UCLA's COVID-19 Health and Politics project in putting the program together.
According to research conducted by political scientist Lynn Vavreck, lead researcher at the project, about a third of survey respondents said they were "more likely" to get a COVID vaccine if offered a cash prize of $50 to $100. That's compared to other tactics, including pro-vaccine public messaging from celebrities.
"Those types of message treatments did not work, but changing people's material condition — giving them a little bit of money or telling them they don't have to wear a mask anymore — made them more likely," Vavreck told CalMatters.
But for a minority of survey respondents — about 15% — the offer of cash backfired. That's consistent with some criticisms made of these lottery programs noting that some vaccine skeptics could falsely interpret a cash reward program as an indication that the vaccine presents a risk that has to be compensated.
Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease physician at the University of California San Francisco, said that different people remain unvaccinated for very different reasons — a lack of social pressure, inconvenience, concerns about common side effects and more unfounded and outlandish safety concerns — so a single policy isn't likely to convince them all.
A possible cash incentive "will move the needle for the people on the fence," he said. "The people who are watching and waiting, who are not necessarily opposed to the vaccine but waiting to see people they know get it ... that group will probably be most moved."
Last month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated Americans can largely dispense with mask-wearing and social distancing — providing a powerful incentive for many. Though California has been reluctant to adopt more coercive measures, such as a statewide vaccine passport requirement, the reopening rules allow fully vaccinated people to attend larger events. Also, state and local governments have imposed selective requirements on certain Californians — public university students are likely to be required to have their shots, though prison guards are not.
Health officers support new CDC guidance for multiple vaccinations
Health officers in nine Bay Area counties and the city of Berkeley announced May 28 that they support recent federal guidance approving people to get vaccines for other illnesses at the same time they get a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously recommended that people wait at least 14 days after getting the COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated against other preventable illnesses.
With more and more real-world evidence of the vaccines' safety and efficacy, the CDC updated that guidance on May 14.
The Association of Bay Area Health Officials — which includes officials from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Solano and the city of Berkeley — said May 28 that it will support that guidance going forward.
"We know a lot of people have delayed getting care and regular immunizations during the pandemic. This new guidance will make it easier for people to catch up on any immunizations they're due for when they get a COVID-19 vaccine at their provider's office," Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said.
COVID-19 vaccines are available statewide for anyone age 12 and up. Residents who get vaccinated in the next two weeks and those who have already been vaccinated will also be eligible for the state's drawings to win part of $116.5 million in gift cards and cash prizes.
Comprehensive COVID-19 coverage
View interactive charts tracking the spread of the coronavirus in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties online at paloaltoonline.atavist.com/tracking-the-coronavirus. Find a comprehensive collection of coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by The Almanac and its sister publications, Palo Alto Online, and the Mountain View Voice, at tinyurl.com/c19-Almanac.
CalMatters and Bay City News Service contributed to this report.