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How have vaccine lotteries impacted vaccination rates?

A dozen states have launched vaccine lottery and give-away programs to increase vaccination rates to support their economic recovery. But have they achieved their goal? 

A dozen states have launched vaccine lottery and give-away programs to increase vaccination rates to support their economic recovery. But have they achieved their goal?
Lukas SchulzeGetty Images

On 12 May, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine became the first leader to announce a vaccine lottery, “Vax-a-Million.” During the multi-week event, Ohio residents who have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine are eligible to win millions; younger residents have the chance to win scholarships to Ohio colleges and universities.

More than a dozen states have followed Ohio’s lead, including California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and, West Virginia. While it is still early, preliminary data on how effective the program has been in Ohio, Colorado, and Maryland is available.

President Biden has stated that he hopes to see at least seventy percent of adults at least partially vaccinated in the Fourth of July. To date, California, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, and Washington have implemented a vaccine lottery and surpassed the seventy percent benchmark.

Deep-dive into the data from Ohio

Gov. DeWine launched the “Vax-a-Million” program on 12 May and has provided periodic updates on how the program has impacted vaccination rates. However, data can often be described or manipulated to paint a prettier picture than reality. The Governor has opted to describe trends in the data since the announcement was made with little contextual information. These comments categorically ignore that vaccination rates across all age groups have dropped at the state level.


At least one doseFully Vaccinated
STATE AVERAGE38.95%35.51%
County Averages38.71%35.40%

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

When dividing the state-wide data by age groups (12-18, 19-64, and 65+), no noticeable increases since the program was launched can be seen. The trends all show drops in the vaccination rates, including among the state’s youngest residents who have been eligible for the least amount of time. However, in a press conference on 24 May, the Governor highlighted that “From May 14 through May 19 as compared to May 7 through May 12, vaccinations in Ohio increased 94 percent among those 16 and 17 years old, 46 percent among those 18 and 19 years old, and 55 percent among those between 20 and 49 years old.” While all increases are positive news, the upward trend touted by the governor is not reflected in the larger data available to the public through the CDC or the state government.

For example on 11 June, Gov. DeWine struck an opposite tone saying that several Ohio countries -- Hocking, Seneca, Ross, Jackson, Fayette, Paulding, Wyandot, Crawford, Warren, and Pickaway -- had seen an increase in vaccinations since the program began. However, the percentage of residents who are partially or fully vaccianted in these counties still falls below the statewide average.

Additionally, when describing the increases at the county level, one significant aspect of the data is left out, the population. When accounting for population, we find that the median in these counties is much smaller -- 30,585 -- than the state-wide median of 57,939. It is common sense that if more people in smaller counties get vaccinated, the progress will be more rapid.

This similar effect can be seen in the national vaccine data as well. States with small populations like Vermont, home to about half a million residents, have quickly vaccinated more than 80% of their adult population. In contrast, in California, the country's most populous state, reaching the President's target took more time because the logistics of vaccinating tens of millions of residents is much more complicated.

To be clear, it is positive news that vaccination rates increased in these counties because at this point in the pandemic, every shot counts, but politicians should be careful how they describe the gains made.

Will Ohio meet the President's seventy percent target?

In April, the Buckeye state-administered almost three million doses of covid-19 vaccines. In May, the vaccine eligibility was expanded to include residents between the age of twelve and fifteen, but the number of shots given still dropped by half to 1.5 million. The June numbers continue to decline rapidly, with the average doses administered around 26,000, they are nearly a quarter of the average from April. At this rate, the state will not reach half a million doses administered by the end of the month.

With this pace of vaccination, the state is unlikely to meet President Biden’s goal. With fifty-eight percent of adults partially or fully vaccinated, the state would need to increase its current vaccination rate anywhere between seven and eightfold.

To date, no peer-reviewed research has been published on the topic. However, there are few variables that can be analyzed to see if any trends that help to explain the differences in vaccination rates across the state.  

2020 Election 

When comparing the counties, Biden won compared to those that Trump won by the greatest margins, some interesting trends surface. Counties, where Trump garnered the largest vote share, have a lower average of partially and full vaccinated residents than both the counties won by Biden and the state-wide average.

AveragesPartially VacciantedFully Vaccinated
STATE AVERAGE38.95%35.51%
Biden Counties 38.72%35.32%
Trump Counties35.54%32.26%

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This tracks with the findings of various polls that show Republicans are more hesitant than Democrats and Republicans to get vaccinated.

Household Income

Similarly, polling data has shown that those in the US with higher incomes have or plan to get vaccinated. Of the ten counties with the highest level of partially and fully vaccinated residents, six and seven of the counties with the highest incomes in the states are represented, respectively.

AveragesPartially VacciantedFully Vaccinated
STATE AVERAGE38.95%35.51%
Poorest Counties31.39%28.78%
Wealthiest Counties50.88%46.43%

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 On the whole, the ten wealthiest counties have higher rates of vaccination when compared to the state as a whole. When looking at the opposite end of the income spectrum, of the ten counties with the lowest vaccination rates, three are some of the state’s poorest counties. The income data poses an interesting question, does the vaccine lottery benefit those with economic privilege in the state?

Vax-a-Million will wrap up in the coming weeks, wherein a more detailed analysis of its impact on vaccination is sure to be completed by the state and researchers.

Colorado and Maryland

In March, Colorado administered 1.2 doses of covid-19 vaccines to adults, with the daily average of doses given out sitting at around 46,000. In April, these numbers hit their record high. Over 1.6 million doses were administered, and the daily average for adults rose to over 56,000. Then, in May, demand began to decrease -- quickly. A little over a million doses were stuck into the arms of Coloradan adults, and the daily average dropped to just over 33,000.

The vaccine lottery, which Governor Jared Pollis announced on 25 May, has not halted the decline. Data from June is bleaker than that recorded in May, with the daily average dropping to 14,369. Despite the decreases, if the state can maintain the pace seen during the first half of June, Colorado should meet the President’s seventy percent target.

Maryland’s vaccine lottery was announced the same day, and the results are similar to that of Colorado and Ohio. Maryland met the President’s target on 31 May. However, when comparing the percent increase of residents who received at least one dose of the vaccine, the average from the ten days before the announcement was higher than that of the ten days that followed.

Final Takeaways

While these results do not show that the implementation of vaccine lotteries helped to increase demand for vaccines over their previous levels, we cannot discount their effectiveness. There is no way to tell if the numbers would have been different had the program not been implemented.

As more states opt to launch a vaccine lottery program, the experiences from other states should be kept in mind. Additionally, as the states who launched their lotteries in early June continue their implementation, there will be more cases to examine, which could have differ from the impacts seen in these three states. 



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