Massachusetts is joining a number of other states who have turned to coronavirus vaccine lotteries offering big-money prizes to spur people to step up and get their shots.
Governor Charlie Baker said at a news conference Tuesday that other states have seen a “significant increase in vaccine signups” with similar programs and mentioned Ohio’s Vax-a-Million program, saying he had a “long conversation” with that state’s governor, Mike DeWine, about it.
DeWine’s May 12 announcement of the Ohio program kicked off a wave of similar lottery incentives around the country. It also had an immediate effect in his state, leading to a 44 percent boost in vaccination numbers in the first week, the governor’s office said. But the impact hasn’t been permanent, with vaccinations subsiding again by the beginning of June, according to cleveland.com and the Ohio coronavirus dashboard.
DeWine’s press secretary said Thursday in an interview that the governor believes the program has been a success, even though its impact has tapered off. “We didn’t expect the increases to be as high as they were,” said Dan Tierney. The first week “exceed the governor’s wildest expectations. On that week alone, you could declare Ohio Vax-a-Million a success.”
Tierney said officials believe the program convinced some people who were on the fence to step up, while others were convinced to stop delaying their shots because of concerns that, due to side effects, they might miss out on an upcoming event like a wedding or a school final. “Not only is persuading some who wasn’t going to get the vaccine a victory, it’s very much a victory to get somebody vaccinated who might have waited till August,” he said.
The buzz over the program, which included coverage by both local and national media, was estimated to be equivalent to about $50 million in advertising, he said. Another benefit of the program was that it turned the “dour topic” of getting vaccinated, which had focused on the importance of vaccinations to avoid hospitalization or death, into a “much more positive conversation.”
“People were talking among themselves, saying, ‘Hey, we could win a million dollars. My kid could win a college scholarship. Those are positive conversations,” he said.
“Whatever we can do to persuade more people to get vaccinated will help,” he said.
Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University, said Tuesday in an e-mail, “In general, I think it was a good idea and produced a sizeable bump in vaccinations during the first few weeks, suggesting that it got the attention of a lot of Ohioans. Whether it leads to more people being vaccinated in the long run, or just getting people who would have gotten vaccinated anyway to speed up getting their shots, may never be determined for sure.”
“However, speeding up vaccinations will have saved lives, even if the total number being vaccinated may not change much,” he said. He also noted that “being the first state to do something so dramatic may have led to a greater bump in vaccination rate than if Ohio had been the 5th or 10th to do so.”
The vaccine lottery crowd also includes California, which made headlines in late May when it announced its “Vax for the Win” program would give away $116.5 million in prize money to those vaccinated.
Dr. David Asch, executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation and an expert in behavioral economics, said Tuesday in an e-mail that he was in favor of vaccine lotteries “because they appeal to the emotional side of our nature rather than the quantitative transactional side, and the former usually wins.”
He said some early analyses of the impact of vaccine lotteries suggested they weren’t “transformative. … But even if they don’t yield touchdowns on their own, the real goal is to gains some yards down the field.”
He also cautioned that “we are probably at or near a point where the people in this nation who aren’t yet vaccinated really don’t want to get vaccinated. That’s a point where incentives of any design may just have less leverage.”
Jeremiah Manion and Daigo Fujiwara of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.
Martin Finucane can be reached at email@example.com.