Ohio found a novel way to subsidize its Vax-a-Million lottery system, which offers residents a $1 million prize or a full-ride scholarship to a four-year university in the state.
The lottery system unveiled by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine last week will begin next Wednesday and continue for five weeks.
The state is using federal funds for the vaccine lottery system under the Department of Treasury requirements for the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was passed by Congress last year in order to help states cope with the coronavirus pandemic quickly, state Health Director Stephanie McCloud said.
"We have to use this money to bring awareness, to help encourage and to facilitate uptake of the vaccine," the health director said. "We knew we were going to find innovative ways to bring vaccine education and vaccine uptake to Ohioans."
Ohio had initially planned to use state voter registration in addition to an opt-in program to automatically enroll every resident into the drawing but changed it Monday to opt-in only.
The change, McCloud said, is an effort to streamline verification and eligibility requirements for lottery participants and allow Ohio residents who don't want to participate to opt out.
The winner can put the scholarship, which includes room and board, tuition, and books, to any Ohio state college or university of their choice. Children can enter on their own but parents or guardians would have to verify their eligibility.
If a winner is found not to have been vaccinated, then officials will work down a list of entrants until a qualified one is found, said Pat McDonald, director for the Ohio Lottery.
According to McCloud, the state already sees the vaccine lottery system as a success, even before the first drawing has taken place. The immediate and intense response following the announcement of the lottery last week is seen by state officials as worth the creative bid to overcome the vaccine hesitancy that remains a stubborn problem across Ohio.
In the days following the lottery's unveiling, McCloud said the rate of vaccinations among the 30-to-54 age range increased by 6% after weeks of decline.
Ohio residents can enter into the lottery system by filling out a questionnaire at Ohiovaxamillion.com or by calling the Ohio Department of Health hotline at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.
Permanent Ohio residents who are 18 years and older and have received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine by the Sunday before the weekly Wednesday drawing are eligible to enter the lottery. The state determines permanent residency using the same requirements that it uses for issuing an Ohio driver's license or eligibility to vote.