Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) is releasing more details behind the sweepstakes created to encourage Ohioans to get the COVID-19 vaccine. While legislators from both sides of the aisles are criticizing DeWine’s plan to use federal relief dollars for the million-dollar prizes.
Update: On Monday, May 17, the Ohio Department of Health announced the lottery will be an opt-in sweepstakes. Those who wish to be part of the drawing must enter through the website OhioVaxAMillion.com which goes live on Tuesday, May 18.
With Ohio moving towards lifting all health orders in the next three weeks, DeWine is making a big push to encourage people to get the vaccine.
Part of that push is a $1 million lottery he’s calling “Ohio Vax-A-Million.” DeWine hopes the million-dollar drawings gives an extra boost for people to get the shot.
“We got people who have got their vaccine. We've got people who have not gotten their vaccine and absolutely say, I'm never going to get that's fine. We respect that. It's the people in the middle who are going to determine whether we get the numbers that we need to really tamp this virus down. That's where the game is. That's where the action is,” DeWine says. “And so being able to create an added incentive that may appeal to some of those individuals seemed well worth the money to do it.”
Here's how the drawing will work.
A person who wants to be entered into the drawing must sign-up through the website wwwOhioVaxAMillion.com.
State officials will draw a name and several additional names as alternates. Then a verification process will take place to confirm the name that’s been selected is a person who has been vaccinated. If not, the state will move on to the alternate names until it finds someone who has received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Details of that verification process and other terms and conditions are still being finalized.
The drawings will be administered by the Ohio Department of Health with the Ohio Lottery Commission providing technical support. The winners will be announced on Wednesdays at 7:29 p.m. beginning May 26. Drawings will be weekly for five weeks.
A similar drawing will also take place for people ages 12-17, where names can also be registered through a web portal. Each of those weekly winners will win a full-ride scholarship to any Ohio public university.
There were Republican and Democratic lawmakers who immediately criticized DeWine’s idea.
House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) says elected leaders have a serious duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
“Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis. Ohioans deserve better than this. I do hope people continue to get the vaccine and help our state reach herd immunity so our economy and way of life can thrive again,” Sykes says in a written statement.
But Republicans were critical too. Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) says the drawing continues a trend of the government pumping federal dollars into programs, such as the stimulus checks and added unemployment benefits.
Cross says he’s heard from constituents who like that DeWine will lift the health restrictions on June 2, “What they're not happy about is the gimmicky way that we're trying to market a vaccination that not everybody necessarily wants or believes in. So, you know, over time, I just think building up consumer confidence of the vaccination is the way to go about it.”
Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) also said this is something that could’ve been done with private sector money instead.
“Look, I think he's trying to find ways to get folks to be incented to take the vaccine. A lottery idea isn't a bad one. Using taxpayer dollars? Probably not something that we should be doing for this. I'm sure there are private companies who maybe would step up and participate in some sort of lottery to incentivize the vaccine. But I don't think that we should be using taxpayer dollars for it,” Antani says.
DeWine has emphasized that the goal is getting as many people as possible vaccinated in order to stop the spread of the virus and potentially save lives.
“I did not go into this and make this decision thinking that everyone was going to say it was a wonderful idea, but I have an obligation and that is to do everything I can to save lives, everything I can to keep Ohio moving forward. And this is one tool we had not used,” says DeWine.
The $5 million being used for the lottery is coming from federal coronavirus relief funds already been appropriated to the Ohio Department of Health by a legislative panel, the Ohio Controlling Board. Ohio has received billions of dollars from the federal government for pandemic relief.
When asked whose idea the vaccine lottery was, DeWine says, “It was mine. The buck stops with me.”