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Study Finds COVID-19 Vaccine Lotteries Don't Increase Vaccination Rates

A new study has found the Ohio statewide COVID-19 vaccine lottery did not boost vaccination rates.
A new study has found Ohio's COVID-19 vaccine lottery did not increase vaccination rates.

A new study suggests lottery-based incentives do not increase COVID-19 vaccination rates.

The study by Boston University researchers, published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the statewide Ohio COVID-19 vaccination lottery and concluded it did not increase vaccination rates.

Allan Walkey, a professor of medicine at Boston University who worked on the study, said lotteries don’t address many people’s deep concerns about the vaccine.

"I think most people are probably not on the fence that could be swayed by a weak nudge, like a lottery incentive, and probably need more of a stronger intervention," he said.

Walkey said some early reports on Ohio's statewide lottery, which gave away $5 million in total before ending in June, found the cash prize incentive for vaccinated Ohioans appeared to be effective.

But he said several factors not related to the lottery may have been responsible for the increase in vaccine numbers, such as the FDA's announcement that it had authorized use of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15, which came close to the time Ohio officials announced the lottery.

“Early reports from Ohio that the lottery was working may have been, you know, what we call confounded, or just influenced by other things that might not have been the lottery and hard to attribute the changes to the lottery when similar things were happening everywhere," Walkey said.

Ohio's lottery spurred nearly a dozen other states to create their own vaccine lotteries.

Gov. Kim Reynolds declined to set up a statewide lottery in Iowa. However, some of the state's counties have created their own lottery-based initiatives.

Black Hawk County officials announced last month that they are raffling off four $500 gift card baskets every Friday in July for newly-vaccinated residents.

A few days later, Polk County officials announced a lottery available to all fully-vaccinated residents that's scheduled to run from late June to late August. The county is hosting weekly drawings on Fridays consisting of 10 prizes of $1,000, one prize of $50,000 and one $5,000 scholarship to those 18 and under every other week.

Polk County officials said their goal is to get 75 percent of the eligible population vaccinated by the end of the State Fair — or Aug. 22.

The incentive is meant to boost COVID-19 vaccination numbers, which have plateaued across the state in recent weeks.

When Polk County officials announced the lottery three weeks ago, they estimated 61 percent of the county's eligible residents were vaccinated. On Tuesday, they said that number had increased to 63 percent.

County officials said as of Tuesday, 84,910 Polk County residents have signed up for the lottery program — representing less than 20 percent of the county's total population.

Black Hawk County said their prizes are funded through a private donation from the Otto Schoitz Foundation, while Polk County is using federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Walkey said his study's findings show health officials could have better results using lottery prize money to instead target vaccine hesitant groups by "finding groups of people that have strong opinions against the COVID vaccine and reaching out and starting a discourse and discussions with them as to what their fears are," he said.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter