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Study finds vaccine lotteries, including Ohio's Vax-a-Million, didn't work

An economics professor looked at 19 vaccine lotteries across the country, including Ohio's, and found that none of them made an impact on vaccination rates.

DENVER — A new study by a University of Colorado Denver professor has found that none of the 19 state-led lotteries that were intended to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, including Ohio's, achieved the desired effect.

Dr. Andrew Friedson, an associate professor of economics at CU Denver, said there was no significant association found between a cash drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations administered after the announcement date. 

Friedson said small, guaranteed cash payments may have been more effective than giving people a small chance of winning a large amount of money.

"Another possibility is that we're dealing with a population, or a subset of the population, that has some firmly entrenched beliefs about vaccines, and until you can change those beliefs any amount of cash is unlikely to change their behavior."

Ohio became the first state to offer a lottery incentive for vaccinations with its five-week 'Vax-a-Million' program that began in May. When it started, Gov. Mike DeWine reported that Ohio had seen a 45% increase in its vaccination rate in the period in the first week after the announcement of the lottery as compared to the previous week. 

Other states quickly created their own versions of the 'Vax-a-Million,' including the “Vax and Scratch” lottery program in New York. West Virginia raffled off everything from cash prizes, to trucks, and guns to try to get people vaccinated.

Ohioans between the ages of 12 and 25-years-old are eligible for scholarship drawings, including five $100,000 scholarships in the state's new Vax to School lottery. In addition to the five $100,000 scholarships, the state will also hold 50 drawings for $10,000 scholarships for the same age group.

In a study released in July, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine said the Vax-a-Million incentive “was not associated with an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations.”

“Our results suggest that state-based lotteries are of limited value in increasing vaccine uptake,” said corresponding author Allan J. Walkey, a physician at Boston Medical Center. “Therefore, the resources devoted to vaccine lotteries may be more successfully invested in programs that target underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy and low vaccine uptake.”

After Colorado's lottery failed to make an impact, Gov. Jared Polis claimed it prevented a sharper drop-off in the vaccination rate. But Friedson said that was not the case.

"What's happening is that states that have lotteries and states that don't have lotteries are on the same trend beforehand, and then after the lotteries are announced, they stay on the same trend," Friedson said. "So if the lottery had been effective, you would have seen the states that announced lotteries have better vaccination and if Colorado was about to go off a cliff with regards to vaccinations, then you would have seen the states that...didn't have lotteries also go off a cliff, unless there is something very special and very different about Colorado."

Friedson called the tactic a "big swing" and said while the lotteries did generate a lot of buzz, they didn't generate a lot of vaccinations.

"Don’t try to incentivize people to get shots with a lottery. Come up with something new. I love the energy, I love the big swings, just take a different one."

The governor's office offered the following statement to 3News sister station WBNS in Columbus:

"Upon a very brief review on this Saturday evening, this study study seemed flawed, in that is seems in compares vaccination rates among states instead of actual vaccine dose increases.

"Ohio data, as well as other studies, such as Harvard, have shown that Vax-a-Million increased vaccines week over week.

"WBNS should think twice before reporting on this flawed study."

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