New Study: Ohio's Vax-a-Million Lottery Did Nothing to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations

But a different study from Harvard University this summer found that Vax-a-Million caused more than 100,000 additional Ohioans to get vaccinated.

A U.S. COVID-19 vaccination record card. - Photo: U.S. Department of Defense
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense
A U.S. COVID-19 vaccination record card.

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine spoke in a COVID-19 address to the state in May, he announced that various health orders instituted during the pandemic would be lifted in June.

"The vaccine is stronger and better than medical experts ever imagined. And now, everyone 12 and over can use it to protect themselves — to put an invisible shield of protection around themselves. Everyone can now control their own health. Everyone can now control their own destiny," he said.

But numbers were still dismaying on the vaccine side. Early demand had slowed and the state was sitting doses while the vax rate statewide at the time was under 40%.

So while he announced the end of health orders, he also announced the Vax-a-Million lottery, which would give five lucky, vaccinated Ohioans $1 million each over the coming weeks and scholarship lottery awards for younger residents in an effort to incentivize more jabs.“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy!’ ” DeWine said. “‘This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money.’ But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Reaction was divided. Some, mostly on the right, decried the use of federal coronavirus funds in a lottery. Others, including CityBeat's sister newspaper Cleveland Scenethought it could be a masterful PR move that would actually move the needle(s).

In late June, DeWine crowed, “Vax-a-million has been a great success."

But according to a new study, an early jump in vaccination rates following the announcement of the lottery came not from the gimmick but from the expansion of qualifying ages to include teens. And lotteries in other states also failed to produce any measurable results.

"There were 37.2 million first doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the United States between April 28 and July 1, 2021, including 19.2 million in states that announced cash drawings," the study's authors wrote. "Estimates of the association between an announcement and vaccination rates were very small in magnitude and statistically indistinguishable from zero... No statistically significant association was detected between a cash-drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations before or after the announcement date, a period that included announcements of lottery winners for most lottery states."

It follows the results of another study that showed Vax-a-Million didn't drive increased demand.

“[O]ur research points to a disappointing outcome—that is, there was no significant association found between a cash-drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations administered after the announcement date," said Andrew Friedson, one of the study's authors.

The authors caution that the study doesn't mean incentives don't work when offered uniformly and offer a theory that lottery drawings, while drawing headlines, failed to deliver informative vaccine messaging or persuade those who were hesitant to receive the vaccine because of misinformation.

In contrast, a study from Harvard University this summer found that Vax-a-Million caused more than 100,000 additional Ohioans to get vaccinated at a cost of about $49 per new Ohioan vaccinated. The study was conducted by comparing Ohio’s vaccination rate during and after the lottery to the vaccination rate of a control region.

Using the control region, study author Neil Sehgal simulated what Ohio’s vaccination rates might have been had the Vax-a-Million lottery not been announced. Prior to the announcement of the lottery, Ohio and synthetic Ohio had similar demographic characteristics, similar new case rates and identical first vaccination rates. After the announcement of the lottery, vaccination rates in both Ohio and synthetic Ohio increased. 

By June 20, days after the end of the lottery, Ohio’s vaccination rate outpaced synthetic Ohio’s by 0.98%, equivalent to 114,553 additional Ohioans getting vaccinated.

Ohio recently announced a new scholarship lottery for younger vaccinated residents.

This story was originally published by CityBeat's sister paper Clevland Scene.

Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get the latest on the news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.