WASHINGTON – The federal government has given the OK for states to offer cash incentives to encourage residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Treasury Department on Tuesday updated its guidance for how states and local governments can spend billions of dollars in aid included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that passed in March.
Lotteries, cash payments or other incentive programs are allowed as long as they are “reasonably expected” to increase vaccinations and the costs are “reasonably proportional” to the expected public health benefit.
“We are nothing if not responsive to good ideas,” said Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor on COVID-19 response. “We encourage states to use their creativity to draw attention to vaccines and get their states and the country back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Slavitt credited Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine with unlocking a secret.
Ohio’s Vax-a-Million program didn’t just increase the COVID-19 vaccination rate of Buckeyes. The state’s lure of a $1 million lottery prize to five vaccinated winners has also convinced Washington it’s a good use of federal dollars.
“People do care about getting vaccinated, but it turns out they have other things they care about too,” Slavitt said during Tuesday’s media briefing by the White House’s coronavirus team. “Some of those things might encourage people to think about what might otherwise be a lower priority.”
After announcing Vax-a-Million, the vaccination rate among Ohioan’s aged 20 to 49 increased 55%.
In some counties, the vaccination rate doubled.
Maryland, New York and Oregon have since announced similar programs.
Ohio is giving $1 million prizes to five winners and full-ride college scholarships to five students ages 12 to 17.
As of Monday, 2.75 million adults had registered for the cash drawings and 104,386 students registered for the college scholarship giveaways.
DeWine said the program “exceeded my wildest expectations.”
When the program began, Ohio lagged behind the national average in the share of residents who had gotten at least one shot. Now, nearly half of the state’s adults are fully vaccinated, which is about on pace with the rest of the nation.
More:Despite criticism, Vax-a-Million raises Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s national profile