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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

$1 million lotteries and baseball for COVID shots? Not in Michigan

vaccine
Ohio’s announcement that it will offer five $1 million lotteries to those who are vaccinated has prompted a debate about whether there’s a line between encouragement and coercion.

July 14: Michigan vaccine lottery has first winners. But inoculation rates still flat.
July 1: Michigan hopes $5 million vaccine lottery inspires more people to get shots
May 24: Can $1 million prizes or free cars jumpstart Michigan COVID vaccine rates?

From $1 million lotteries and full-ride college scholarships to baseball, beer and savings bonds, states are offering free stuff for getting COVID-19 vaccinations.

 

In Michigan, vaccinations can usually get you a free sticker.

While there are scattered efforts by local officials around the state, particularly in Detroit, there is no statewide incentive program to persuade vaccine-hesitant Michiganders to get their shots.

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Some say that should change — and Michigan should do more to jumpstart stagnant vaccination rates, now that Ohio is promising lotteries and scholarships.

Nearly 56 percent of Michigan adults are vaccinated, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has set a goal of 70 percent, which could take months to reach.

 

Experts say incentives work, and even big-ticket ones like Ohio’s will save money in the long run in health care costs.

That was the case at the Safeway grocery chain, which paid its 185,000 employees $600 to $2,000 to lose weight, lower blood pressure and reduce blood sugar, said Ken Shachmut, the executive who oversaw the program. 

Over 10 years in the early 2000s, health care costs at the chain fell dramatically. Incentives to take the coronavirus vaccine would work just as well because they’re rooted in simple economics, Shachmut told Bridge Michigan.

“(Lotteries are) hope over logic but they are very compelling for a lot of us,” said Shachmut. “It’s a really interesting concept. If it turns out to be correct, it will turn out to be cost effective.”

Ohio’s program offers five $1 million-dollar lotteries for those who’ve received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, as well as free-ride scholarship. (Michigan residents who got the vaccine in Ohio are not eligible.)

The program is the highest-profile in a number of incentives nationwide to move sluggish vaccination rates. Nationwide, 57.6 percent of those 16 and older have had at least one dose; Ohio trails the nation and Michigan, at 52.7 percent of adults.

Ohio’s audacious proposal blows away the free beer and tickets that other states have pitched, including: 

  • West Virginia is offering a $100 savings bond for anyone age 16-35 who gets vaccinated.
  • New Jersey and Connecticut are giving free beer through a program labeled “a shot and a beer.”
  • Maine is offering hunting and fishing licenses and Maine Wildlife Park passes for vaccinations in a program called “Your shot to get outdoors.”
  • Maryland is offering $100 to state employees who get jabbed, to “keep themselves, their families and their communities healthy and safe,” Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said in a news release announcing the program.
  • In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is hawking free tickets to Mets and Yankee games for newly vaccinated people. Another promotion gave away free weekly subway passes.

In other cities, organizers are offering free zoo passes, marijuana through a one-day program called “joints for jabs” and a drawing for a free car.

In Michigan, there are no statewide incentives to encourage vaccinations, acknowledged Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

One of Michigan’s efforts so far: TikTok videos like this.

Sutfin did not immediately respond when asked if the state has considered incentives. And some medical experts question whether efforts like Ohio’s lottery cross an ethical line.

“That is good old-fashioned bribery,” said Debra Furr-Holden, a professor of public health at Michigan State University. “Most people would do anything for a million dollars and that’s not the (reason) we want them to get the vaccine.”

Furr-Holden said researchers can only offer nominal rewards to subjects for studies because the reward cannot be so big that participants are blinded to the potential risks. The million-dollar vaccine lottery obliterates that equation, she said.

“It’s too big of a carrot,” she said. “It takes choice out of it. It’s coercive.”

What incentives there are in Michigan are lower-budget affairs.

 

In Detroit, which has vaccination rates lower than Michigan’s average, officials are offering $50 to people who brought in someone for a vaccination, with no limit to how many residents a person can bring in for shots under the city’s Good Neighbor program.

Detroit Public Schools Community District is offering $500 and two extra sick days to teachers and other employees who get vaccinated, while Wayne State University is paying students $10.

But it’s unclear whether how well incentives work.

In Connecticut, for example, after an offer of free beer, daily vaccinations fell, by about 39 percent, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis of vaccine data. 

That’s worse than Michigan, which fell 27 percent over the same time. 

Michigan is trying to vaccinate people in hard-to-reach areas. But it’s mobile health providers, for which it sought bids as of Tuesday, won’t start until June 14. The mobile provider program will target the homebound, seasonal agricultural workers, the homeless and go directly into neighborhoods.

“Our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible in order to reduce the COVID19 viral spread,” said Ann Hefper, the health officer for Huron and Tuscola counties, two of the state’s hardest-hit counties.

“If (a lottery incentive) works, it helps us reach our goals.”

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