Editorial: DeWine has not ‘lost his mind’ — Vax-A-Million might just be a genius move


No one can say with a straight face that Gov. Mike DeWine doesn’t know that cold hard cash motivates many Ohioans.

The $1.66 billion spent on Ohio Lottery scratch-off tickets in 2019 alone is proof that more than a handful of Buckeyes will take a gamble for moolah.

Money talks in America and researchers have proven it can be used as an incentive to persuade people to get vaccinated.

Study after study has shown that despite the speed at which they were created, taking a coronavirus vaccine is far from a roll of the dice.

But too many don’t see it that way.

According to a Monmouth University poll released a month ago, 21% of Americans say they will never get the vaccine if they can avoid it.

The DeWine administration is betting that the state’s just-launched Vax-a-Million drawing for five $1 million prizes and college scholarships will prompt so-called “persuadables” to jump down from the fence and roll up their sleeves for a syringe full of one of the three vaccines being administered in the United States.

“You know there’s nothing more important to Ohio’s recovery and nothing more important to saving lives than more Ohioans getting the vaccine,” DeWine said on CNN’s New Day. “I know people are going to say ‘DeWine lost his mind. This is a waste.’ But what I think is a waste is now to have the vaccine that can save people’s lives and to have someone die of the COVID because they did not get vaccinated. That is a horrible, horrible waste. That is what a waste is.”

Ohio residents who are 18 or older that have received at least one vaccine dose can register to be entered to win one of the five $1 million prizes.

Children ages 12 to 17 who have received at least one vaccine dose and register are eligible to win a four-year, full-ride college scholarships at a public Ohio college or university.

The attention grabbing plan of course has its critics.

Some of the strongest are fellow Ohio Republicans who say funding from COVID-19 relief is being misused or can be used better elsewhere. Some of those same lawmakers have refused to wear masks and/or downplayed the pandemic’s impact.

“We’ve gone from 15 days to slow the spread to $1 million if you get the #COVID19 vaccine,” U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, wrote in a tweet. “Give me a break.”

The governor has called the “vax lottery” a creative way to increase the state’s vaccination rate, which sat at 41% around the time the contest was announced Wednesday, May 12.

Two days later, the daily rate of Ohioans 30 to 74 starting vaccination spiked by 6% after a 24% decrease week over week for the previous two Fridays.

That Friday saw the highest daily vaccination rates for a Friday in four weeks. The same was true for that Sunday and Monday, a Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman says.

All age groups saw increased vaccinated rates except those 80 and older, a group already highly vaccinated because they were first in line.

Within hours of the Vax-A-Million contest opening Tuesday, the Vax-a-Million website received 25 million hits, and hundreds of thousands of Ohioans signed up for the $1 million prize drawings and college scholarship giveaways.

The state’s vaccination rate was 43 percent as of Tuesday, with more than 5,017,279 Ohioans at least partly vaccinated and therefore eligible to enter the contest. If each person registers, they’d have a roughly one-in-a-million change of winning one of the top prizes.

Time will tell whether DeWine’s campaign persuades the hesitant, but much of the complaining seems like bluster.

Five million dollars amount to barely a drop in the bucket when compared to the amount spent on coronavirus relief and vaccines here and nationally.

The government has allocated $7.5 billion to CDC alone for “activities to plan, promote, distribute, administer, monitor, and track COVID-19 vaccines.”

The Ohio Department of Health already has spent roughly $10.5 million on public outreach, education, and expenses related to COVID-19 vaccines, a spokeswoman said.

This includes advertising.

Seated at his home in rural Cedarville, DeWine has gotten plenty of airtime on national news shows discussing the vax lottery.

Thinking out of the box might save Ohio taxpayers millions in the long run by preventing coronavirus infections.

The sooner most Ohioans are vaccinated, the sooner we can resume life in this new normal. That’s worth $5 million and change.

— Columbus Dispatch, May 23