As Massachusetts officially ended its state of emergency and marked 4 million residents vaccinated, Gov. Charlie Baker says now people who get their coronavirus inoculations could get another shot: at winning a million dollars or a scholarship.
Speaking at a press conference on Beacon Hill Tuesday, the Republican governor announced the partnership with the Massachusetts State Lottery alongside state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg. The pair said adults could be entered to win one of five $1 million cash prizes if they get their shots, and that those between ages 12-17 would be entered to win one of five $300,000 scholarships.
The aim of the so-called VaxMillions Giveaway, modeled after a similar program in Ohio, is to drive up the state's vaccination rate, already one of the best in the nation, he said.
"I think the more people we can get vaccinated, the better," Baker said.
Only Massachusetts residents who receive their vaccines here are eligible. Residents will be able to enter the drawing online or through a call center starting July 1. Instructions will be available later this month.
The money is coming from federal coronavirus relief funds.
Baker said he discussed the program with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, which has similar program that been successful in boosting vaccination rates.
DeWine said the lottery accomplished three things, Baker said. It has created more visibility about getting vaccinated generally. It also spurred people previously hesitant to get vaccinated to get a shot.
“They did start to see pickup rates among some of the populations they'd had a really hard time reaching, especially, sort of young people, mostly men, between the ages of about 20 and 40, which is a tough population for us as well as it was for them," Baker said.
Ohio also saw an uptick in interest from parents who used the offer of a college scholarship to urge their hesitant children to get vaccinated, he said.
“Who wouldn't want a scholarship for their education?" said state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, whose office oversees the state lottery.
Massachusetts state leaders have long touted a vaccination goal of 4.1 million people. While there was a deluge of people initially seeking appointments, in recent weeks that interest has gone down in many communities.
Dr. Shira Doron, a hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said the state has made real progress, but there is still work to be done.
"To some extent, the numbers we’re aiming for are a little bit arbitrary... We want to get as close to 100% percent as possible," Doron said. "We really do."
That’s because immunizations protect vaccinated people and everyone around them — and bring us closer to ending this pandemic. Doron said you can already see a significant drop in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths across the state. And there’s another benefit when residents see so many people get vaccinated: it shows the safety of the vaccines.
"We’re past the point where anybody should worry that it’s too new, that it wasn’t given to enough people, I mean," Doron said. "It’s been given to enough people many, many times over to know that it is really, really safe. These are really, really safe vaccines."
Dr. Benjamin Linas, an epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center, said there are a lot of reasons why some people want to get the vaccine, but can’t.
"Just logistics and the reality of life," Linas said. "When you’re working two or three jobs… There's a lot of things that are reasonably more important to the vaccine. If you don't have social supports for things like feeding the kids and paying the rent and not losing an apartment — all come before the vaccine, they would for anyone."
State officials are working to overcome some of these obstacles. They’ve shifted the vaccine strategy to more pop-up sites and walk-in appointments. They’ve even added home visits. Linas said another strategy might be paid time off for workers who risk losing wages if they have to stay home to recover from side effects.
Massachusetts has one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates, but some communities lag behind. And fewer than half of all Black and Latino residents have received at least one dose. Linas said that means some people are susceptible to COVID.
"There is the possibility in those communities, where the risk that gets introduced there, there’s still a lot of susceptible people and there’s a potential for the virus to spread," Linas said.
The challenge now is to reach as many unvaccinated people as possible wherever they are, so they can reduce the risk of COVID-19 for themselves and everyone around them.
With additional reporting from State House News Service
This article was originally published on June 15, 2021.
This segment aired on June 16, 2021.