Editorial: Let's give the vaccine lottery a try in Illinois

  • A woman walks into Ohio's COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic at Cleveland State University last month. Nearly 2.8 million residents have registered for Ohio's Vax-a-Million vaccination incentive program.

    A woman walks into Ohio's COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic at Cleveland State University last month. Nearly 2.8 million residents have registered for Ohio's Vax-a-Million vaccination incentive program. Associated Press File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted6/4/2021 1:00 AM

Details are as yet scarce, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker appears poised to put Illinois aboard the vaccine lottery bandwagon, pledging to devote around $7 million to lottery prizes that would entice Illinois residents to get vaccinated and possibly another $3 million in scholarships or educational awards for vaccinated students under 18.

Some critics will no doubt find it appalling that the state would lure people to get vaccinated through the astronomical odds of winning a lottery, and certainly people who, for whatever reason, are vehemently opposed to the vaccine won't be persuaded.

 

But if Ohio is any indicator, there are still plenty of people who are on the fence about vaccination or who just haven't gotten around to it for whom the unlikely chance at riches might convince.

Ohio is offering five $1 million prizes to vaccinated adults along with five full tuition rides for vaccinated kids 12-17 at a state college or university. According to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, shots are up 49% among people ages 16 and over, and have increased 36% among minorities and 65% among people in rural areas. Moreover, vaccinations among 16- and 17-year-olds have increased 94 percent.

"It (getting vaccinated) is the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones," Pritzker said.

Yes, but people have to be willing to take the time and trouble to do it. Our society is in real danger today of splitting into two unequal parts -- people who can go on with their lives, largely safe from the risk of death from COVID-19 or from spreading the disease to others; and everybody else. Minorities and rural residents -- two groups in Illinois that need greater numbers of vaccinated people to secure their own well-being -- have responded to the lottery in Ohio, so it follows they will respond here.

With the kind of vaccination numbers Ohio is showing, a $7 million to $10 million vaccine lottery seems like a reasonable experiment for Illinois. According to FAIR Health, a national nonprofit based in New York City, the average hospital bill for the most severe COVID-19 patients can be close to $250,000. At those rates, it wouldn't take long for the lottery to pay for itself in saved health care costs.

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When you consider that California is putting $116 million into its vaccine lottery, states like Ohio and Illinois seem like pikers.

Still, officials are keeping up the pressure in other ways, too. The Cook County Health Department is giving vaccinated residents tickets to Six Flags Great America every Wednesday as long as supplies last. And this week, Pritzker signed the dubiously dubbed "shot and a beer" law, allowing bars to give away a free drink to vaccinated customers.

Vaccinating the American people is the great public works project of the current age, a deadly serious endeavor. But making elements of it fun isn't unreasonable. DeWine understood that when he quoted Bill Veeck in a New York Times column about Ohio's vaccine lottery: "To give one can of beer to a thousand people is not nearly as much fun as giving 1,000 cans of beer to one guy." Amen.

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