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Michigan vaccine lottery has first winners. But inoculation rates still flat.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first four winners of the “MI Shot to Win” lottery during a virtual event on Tuesday. Vaccination rates haven’t moved much since the sweepstakes was announced nearly two weeks ago. (Screenshot)

Aug. 3: Michigan spent $5M on vaccine lottery, fell well shy of 70 percent goal
Aug. 1: Youngsters key to Michigan herd immunity. But less than half have had shots
July 28: CDC recommends masks in 11 Michigan counties. Most have low inoculation rates

July 27: CDC recommends indoor mask use. But don’t expect mandates in Michigan

LANSING — A New Baltimore nurse, a Southfield resident, a Detroiter tired of wearing a face mask and a retired GM factory worker from Wyoming are the first four Michiganders to win money for getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced initial $50,000 prize winners on Wednesday amid sluggish vaccination rates and continued uncertainty over whether the contest is doing much to encourage residents to get a shot. 

In a virtual event with “win” screen graphics and celebratory sound effects, Whitmer doled out the first of 30 daily prizes available to Michiganders who receive their first dose during the contest, which ends Aug. 3. 

    The state is spending federal coronavirus relief funds on the MI Shot to Win lottery. Officials will announce winners of $1 million and $2 million grand prizes — which are also available to residents who are already immunized —  later, along with college scholarships and other awards. 


    Chris Ackerman of Detroit, who won $50,000, said in a video statement he got the vaccine to “keep his family safe.” Larita Lee of Wyoming told the state the sweepstakes prompted her to “finally get immunized.” Amber Berger of New Baltimore and Adrienne Peterson of Southfield also won awards.

    Whitmer used the announcement to urge viewers to remain vigilant against COVID-19 despite falling case counts because a more contagious Delta variant is spreading across the state.

      “I know it’s tempting to celebrate right now because we have been moving forward, but if you’ve not gotten your shot yet, the virus is still a very real threat to you right now,” she said.

      Whitmer launched the lottery on July 1 with the hope it would help achieve her statewide goal of a 70 percent first-dose vaccination rate among residents 16 and older by Aug. 3.

      Two weeks into the contest, that appears doubtful.

      The rate has climbed from 61.7 percent to 62.4 percent since Whitmer announced the lottery, rising by less than 1 percentage point. With less than three weeks to go, another 611,697 residents would need to receive a first dose in order for Michigan to reach its goal.

      It’s unclear what effect, if any, the lottery has had on vaccination uptake in Michigan, or whether it has encouraged any reluctant residents to get a shot they would have otherwise avoided.

      First-dose vaccination numbers were plummeting as Whitmer announced the lottery on July 1, and they declined precipitously over the course of the following week, which may be partially attributable to the Fourth of July holiday.

      Only 25,048 Michiganders got a first dose in the week immediately following Whitmer’s announcement, which was the lowest total since vaccinations became widely available. 

      But numbers then rebounded, producing the first week-over-week increase since early June. Between July 7 and July 13, 45,869 Michiganders received a first dose. That was just shy of the 46,093 first doses administered the week before the lottery announcement.

      So far in July, an average of 4,997 Michiganders per day have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC data. 

      That’s down from 8,985 in June, 19,788 in May and 46,513 in April.

      Kerry Ott, a spokesperson for the Luce, Mackinac, Alger, Schoolcraft county health department in Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula, said she has not had a rush in vaccinations since the lottery was announced. 

      While the Fourth of July may have depressed numbers, vaccinations for those four counties have dropped during the contest. From June 17 to June 30 there were 433 vaccinations, but from July 1 to July 13 there have only been 196 vaccinations. 

      In Washtenaw County, the number of vaccinations given per day is down but holding “steady,” according to spokesperson Susan Ringler-Cerniglia.

      “The consensus ... is that they haven’t necessarily seen an increase in that steadiness since the incentive of the lottery was announced,” Ringler said. “(We) have been telling people about (the lottery), so many folks coming in for their first vaccination are of course pleased to hear about it, but (we’re) not necessarily seeing folks that are coming in because they heard about it.” 

      In some parts of the state, the vaccine lottery had prompted backlash that may actually complicate the mass vaccination effort, Ott said. 

      “We do know from social media, not ours specifically, but other news outlets in Michigan, especially in the (Upper Peninsula), that when they post about the lottery, there are a lot of people saying stuff like, ‘If you have to bribe us, it must not be that good’,” Ott said. 

      “I don’t have any empirical data on this, but I believe it might be having a negative effect on vaccinations,” he added.

      As of July 13, more than 5.2 million Michiganders had received at least one shot, including 60.5 percent of residents age 12 and older. That vaccination rate ranks 27th among all states and is lower than the national average of 65 percent, according to the CDC. 

      Michigan is outpacing its neighboring states of Ohio (57 percent) and Indiana (54.1 percent). But it trails Illinois, which is the leader among Great Lakes states with first doses administered to 70.5 percent of residents age 12 and older. 

      In announcing the Michigan lottery, Whitmer pointed to an earlier effort in Ohio, where officials touted a welcome bump in vaccinations after enticing residents with $5 lottery prizes, all of which the state has already doled out. 

      But a study published this month found no evidence that Ohio’s lottery had actually boosted vaccination rates. 

      Instead, authors noted that after Ohio announced its lottery May 12, daily rates declined more steeply there than in the rest of the country.

      Whitmer has touted a different metric as evidence of success: Lottery sign-ups, but those numbers provide little insight into new vaccinations because the $2 million and $1 million grand prizes are open to people who were already fully immunized. 

      The $50,000 prizes, however, are available only to eligible adults age 18 and over who received their first dose during the contest. The state will hand out a total of 30 daily awards before the lottery ends on Aug. 3. 

      Since July 1, nearly 1.8 million people have applied for the grand prizes, along with 80,328 young Michiganders who signed up for a chance at one of nine four-year college scholarships, according to the Whitmer administration.

      “We want you to be one of the potential winners too,” Whitmer said. “So please get vaccinated and sign up.”

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