Lotteries did not encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, new study finds

Despite the vaccine lottery, North Carolina’s overall vaccination rate remains below the national average.

The chance to win $1 million did not lead to increased vaccination rates against COVID-19, according to a new study published Friday that examined the states that held vaccine lotteries earlier this year.

There was a “near zero” association between those cash drawings and additional vaccinations in states like Colorado, which held five drawings among vaccinated individuals, and North Carolina, which held four.

We were really excited when we saw these policies come out and were really hopeful that they were going to be effective, and they just turned out not to be,” Andrew Friedson, an associate economics professor at University of Colorado Denver and one of the authors of the study, told Colorado Newsline.

Dhaval Dave, Benjamin Hansen and Joseph J. Sabia co-authored the study.

Friedson and his team examined vaccination rates before and after the announcement of a lottery in 19 states, and then compared those rates to those in non-lottery states. They discovered little to no association between the lottery announcement and the number of vaccines administered after that announcement date, indicating that the lottery strategy was ineffective.

Ohio was the first state to announce its “Vax-a-Million” lottery on May 12, and other states quickly followed suit.

The states included in the study were Arkansas, Colorado, California, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia.

The lotteries were incentive programs designed to get states to a high enough vaccination rate to achieve herd immunity, or around 70%. It seems, however, that they had little effect in convincing people to get vaccinated. State data shows a leveling out of the vaccine rate following the lottery announcement, not the intended uptick.

Colorado spent $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for the five cash drawings. North Carolina awarded four $1 million first prizes and three $125,000 scholarships.

“Any dollar that you spend on something that doesn’t work is a dollar that you could have been spending on something that does,” Friedson said. “So this is, across all the different states, tens of millions of dollars that we could have been spending on potentially more effective policies.”

Friedson said this study is important to inform future decision making for public health officials.

“We see a policy that seems really exciting,” Friedson said. “Step one is to find out if it works. If it doesn’t work, step two is to find out why and find out what we can do instead that might work better.” Read more