This week the state of Ohio held a lottery for vaccinated people that gave one very lucky person $ 1 million. And while I'm upset that I, a vaccinated Ohioan, didn't win, it looks like the lottery is going to give the state's vaccine rollout a boost.
This is how it works: Every Wednesday until June 23, the state randomly names two people from its database of vaccinated people. One of these individuals will come from the 12-17 year old group and receive a four-year full-time scholarship to an Ohio State college or university. The other lucky person will come from the 18 year old group and win $ 1 million.
The lottery was announced on May 12th. Based on data from Ohio, the state saw first shots in people 18 and older from May 14-19, a 47 percent increase from May 7-12. and 17-year-olds in the same period. (There are no numbers for the 12-15 year old as they were eligible for vaccines on the same day as the lottery announcement.)
On the other hand, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provided by Stanford's Jorge Caballero, shows that vaccination for people aged 18 and over in Ohio actually fell 22 percent during that period.
This is almost certainly due to a quirk in data reporting: while Ohio numbers are based on the time a first shot was administered, the CDC are based on the time a first shot was reported. Hence, the Ohio data is more likely to capture the real-time impact of the lottery.
However, even the CDC data shows that Ohio vaccination numbers for the group over 18 have trended slightly better than U.S. numbers since the lottery was announced, with the state pulling out ahead of the nation after falling behind in early May.
That suggests Ohio is doing slightly better than America as a whole. It could be the lottery. It could also be an entirely different matter – maybe some local contact groups in the state have really stepped up their efforts lately. We need more rigorous analysis and study to know for sure.
But whether Ohio made the right move shouldn't be down to the lottery’s success or failure – because these unusual, headline-grabbing incentives are the things more states should try, even if they don't ultimately work out as well as we hoped.
Right now, the American vaccine rollout is in a mediocre place. We could hit President Joe Biden's goal of reaching 70 percent adult first-shot rates by July 4th, but it could be a close call: daily first-shot rates have peaked from In mid-April more than halved and increasingly the problem is hesitant about the vaccine.
We don't really know how to fix this. We are in the novel situation of trying to vaccinate the entire population quickly in the middle of a pandemic. So we don't have that many proven solutions – and officials need some creativity and flexibility to figure out what works.
This is where these incentives come into play. This includes a lottery that some other states are now copying in some form, but also other approaches like $ 100 payouts and free beer with the vaccines.
Yes, it's a bit sad that some Americans need incentives to get a potentially life-saving vaccine while many places around the world are desperate for more shots.
But when incentives are needed, we cannot ignore this reality – the stakes in the fight against Covid-19 are too high.
Not all of these efforts will work, and some may even turn into costly mistakes. However, it is worth taking these risks. Otherwise we will have a harder time figuring out what works.