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Other states are trying vaccine lotteries. Should Mass. consider something similar?

What if getting a coronavirus vaccination came with a chance to win the lottery?
What if getting a coronavirus vaccination came with a chance to win the lottery?Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Should Massachusetts have a coronavirus vaccine lottery?

Other states are giving them a try, in some cases offering those who have gotten their shots a chance to win big money, and federal officials have expressed an openness to the idea as a way of boosting vaccination rates.

State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg’s office “has begun to do initial research on what a vaccine lottery would entail, but ultimately any program and specifics would be set forth by the Governor’s office,” Goldberg’s chief of staff, Chandra Bork, said in an e-mail. The treasurer chairs the state lottery commission.

In a statement Tuesday night, a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center emphasized the state’s status as a national leader in vaccinations and pointed to efforts already underway to reach those people who haven’t been vaccinated yet.

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“The Administration’s goal remains getting every person that wants a vaccine a shot,” the spokeswoman said, adding the administration had “increased targeted, locally based ... clinics and expanded the homebound program and launched employer and school vaccination programs to reach the remaining populations where they are.”

Dr. David Asch, executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation and an expert in behavioral economics, said by e-mail that “the question Massachusetts and other states face is how to get vaccinated those people who haven’t yet been vaccinated.”

“And those people have revealed themselves to be relatively resistant to the efforts to date. That suggests we should try some NEW approaches, approaches these unvaccinated Massachusetts residents haven’t been exposed to,” he said.

“Lotteries are among those approaches,” he added.

Abhijit Banerjee, an MIT economics professor who has studied ways to encourage routine childhood vaccinations in pre-pandemic India, also said the state should consider a lottery.

Banerjee said there is a debate about whether small cash payments or a lottery are more effective in encouraging people to participate. He suggested the state test the two incentives to see which works better. “You could see what people respond to, and that would be a good starting point,” said Banerjee, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in 2019.

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“One advantage of a lottery is you sort of create a lot of noise around it … It can be made very exciting,” Banerjee said.

Ohio was in the news last week when it announced the first winners in its “Vax-a-Million” drawing, which will award $1 million each to five vaccinated adults and a full-ride scholarship to Ohio public colleges to five vaccinated teenagers.

California also made headlines last week when it announced that its “Vax for the Win” program would give away $116.5 million in prize money to those vaccinated, including $1.5 million each to 10 people, $50,000 each to 30 people, and $50 gift cards to the next 2 million people who get shots.

Other states have also announced various types of lottery programs and giveaways to those who have gotten vaccinated. Last week, the federal government gave the green light to states to use coronavirus relief money on such programs.

Andy Slavitt, one of President Biden’s top COVID-19 advisers, said at a briefing of the White House coronavirus response team last week that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine had “unlocked a secret” with the Vax-a-Million program.

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“People do care about getting vaccinated, but it turns out they also have other things they care about. Some of those things might encourage people to think about what might otherwise be a lower priority,” he said. “In the days after Ohio announced the program, the state saw a 55 percent increase in its vaccination rate among younger adults, 20-49 years of age. In several counties, the rate of vaccination doubled compared to before the announcement. “

He said new Treasury Department guidance would allow “states to use their creativity to draw attention to vaccines and to get their states and the country back to normal as quickly as possible. This includes lottery programs for vaccinated individuals, cash or in-kind transfers, or other monetary incentives for individuals to get vaccinated.”

Asch told Yahoo Life last week that lotteries, in contrast with simple giveaways, have an “emotional appeal.”

“Let’s face it, buying a lottery ticket is a fairly bad idea as an investment return — only pennies on the dollar,” Asch said. “But lotteries offer the chance to win a huge prize and people are much more likely to focus on the big prize than on the small chance of winning that prize.”

The latest US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data say 53.4 percent of Massachusetts’ population is fully vaccinated, and 66.2 percent of the population has received at least one dose.

Massachusetts residents also appear to love playing the lottery, with sales topping $5 billion annually in recent years.

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Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.