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Research from Harvard University found that Ohio’s Vax-a-Million promotion, which offered money and scholarships, was an effective way to persuade hesitant residents to get the shots.
An Ohio campaign that offered monetary prizes and college scholarships to residents who received the Covid-19 vaccine prompted more than 100,000 people to get the shot who might not have otherwise, according to a study from Harvard University.
The Vax-a-Million program, announced in May by Gov. Mike DeWine, allowed vaccinated adults to participate in five weekly drawings for a prize of up to $1 million. Vaccinated residents between the ages of 12 and 17 were eligible for four-year scholarships to any of Ohio’s state colleges and universities, “including full tuition, room and board, and books,” according to a news release.
The Harvard study, printed this month in The American Journal of Medicine, assessed the lottery’s effects by using Covid-19 case and vaccination rates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and national and state demographic information from the Census Bureau.
Using those numbers, researchers constructed a “synthetic Ohio”—a hypothetical version of the state comprised of a “weighted combination of other states [that] can better approximate” the demographics, case and vaccination rates of Ohio before the implementation of its lottery “than any single state alone.” (States that implemented vaccine lottery programs prior to June 20—a total of 13—were excluded from the data pool.) Both versions of the state had similar case numbers and demographics, as well as identical rates of first vaccinations, allowing researchers to assess later changes in vaccination rates to determine the impact of the lottery.
The results indicated that “an additional 114,553 Ohioans received vaccinations as a result of the Vax-a-Million program,” at a cost of roughly $49 per person, or $5.6 million. About 3.5 million people, including 155,000 children, registered for the lottery, which held its first drawing on May 26 and its final drawing on June 23.
But the competition was not a silver bullet for flagging interest in vaccines. As of Monday, Ohio ranks 28th nationally in vaccination rate, with 46.91% of the population fully inoculated, according to a review of CDC data.
“A majority of Ohioans remained unvaccinated by the end of the lottery, indicating that additional efforts are needed to address barriers in vaccination,” the Harvard study said.
The study refutes the results of an earlier report from Boston University that concluded that the Vax-a-Million program “was not associated with an increase in Covid-19 vaccinations.” That study also compared vaccine rates from Ohio to other states, but did not weight the data to construct a second, hypothetical Ohio, according to its methodology.
DeWine on Friday said that the Boston University study was “flawed” and encouraged local governments and businesses to implement vaccine incentive programs specifically tailored to their constituents.
“You know your county,” he said. “If you want to try something that will increase vaccinations, we’re here to help you.”
Ohio is offering at least one other statewide incentive as well—a $100 bonus for Medicaid and MyCare recipients who receive their first dose of the vaccine by Sept. 15.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.