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Only half of those eligible have signed up for Vax Million, the free lottery. I like my odds

Kameron M. from South King County in Washington accepted his $1 million from Gov. Jay Inslee after winning one of the state's vaccination lottery prizes.
Kameron M. from South King County in Washington accepted his $1 million from Gov. Jay Inslee after winning one of the state's vaccination lottery prizes.Ellen M. Banner/Associated Press

“Vonnie, I’m getting concerned.”

The text came from a fellow Globe columnist who shall remain nameless. Each day, this lucky colleague is treated to almost every thought that pops into my head, and on a recent morning, I was sharing -- not for the first time -- my thinking on how I’d spend my Vax Million which, according to my calculations, was going to be more like Vax Six Or Seven Hundred Thousand, after taxes.

I had spent a good chunk of the morning poring over the “Winning Stories” page on the Mass Lottery website for guidance, reading up on how various scratch ticket champions had planned to spend their new riches. (To my million-dollar man dreaming of a new refrigerator: Aim higher, buddy!)

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“You’re, um, obsessed,” offered my gentle colleague.

Gee, Adrian! Ya think?

I’m not much of a lottery person, having seen too many gambling addictions up close. But Vax Millions is free to enter, designed to drive up life-saving vaccinations, and the odds are way better than Powerball. Win-win-win. Obsessed doesn’t even come close to describing how into this I am.

So imagine my delight upon learning last week that only about half of those eligible have so far have entered the special state lottery for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, thereby greatly enhancing my chances. According to State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, only 1.8 million of just over 4 million vaccinated adults have entered for a chance to win $1 million in one of the five weekly drawings that begin on July 26th. So my chance of winning that first prize is one in less than 2 million, which means I practically have it in the bag. The odds are even better that my kid will win one of the $300,000 educational grants offered to fully vaccinated 12 to 17 year olds: Only 120,000 in that group had registered as of Friday afternoon. Joy!

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But why is this happening? After all, people in this state absolutely love gambling, spending more per capita on the lottery than residents of any state in the country. Goldberg says it’s because not enough people know about the lottery yet. She’s confident that will change once that first winner is announced, and people see me beaming as I hold that oversized check.

“You’re going to get a lot of press around who won the million and who won the scholarship,” she said.

And then, perhaps in a vain attempt to tamp down my own expectations, the treasurer also pointed out that even folks who don’t end up with the moolah will still be winners here, given that the lottery is meant to drive up vaccination rates, which protects all of us from COVID.

But how is that going?

The results in other states that have tried this vaccine promotion gimmick have not been encouraging so far. A July study by doctors at Boston University found that, contrary to early reports, Ohio’s “Vax-a-Million” lottery was not associated with an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations. Experts have been similarly unimpressed with lotteries in other states.

In Massachusetts, with one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, there are fewer holdouts who might be persuaded to begin with. When the governor announced the lottery on June 15th, 80 percent of residents here already had at least their first shot. A spokesperson for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said it’s too early to tell whether the lottery has nudged more people towards the shot, especially before the first drawing. But the lottery is only one of a suite of strategies the state is deploying to reach the unvaccinated, which include a Vax Express train and a Vax Bus, and offering shots and gift cards at Market Basket and Big Y supermarkets. Health workers are also going door-to-door in 20 disadvantaged communities in the Commonwealth.

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All of it is potentially life-saving: The Delta variant -- and a terrifying disinformation campaign -- is undoing some of our good work, even in Massachusetts. As CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on Friday, COVID is now becoming “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

So let’s keep trying everything. Even if it means more people vying for those millions.

I welcome the competition!


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.