Some of the next millionaires in Massachusetts will be made because of the COVID-19 vaccine, and it won’t be for their work for Pfizer or Moderna, the pharmaceutical and biotech companies that make them.
Starting July 1, the state will hold weekly drawings for $1 million cash prizes for anyone 18 and older who is fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Children ages 12 to 17 who are vaccinated will be eligible to win a $300,000 college scholarship. Registration for the drawings opens July 1.
The “VaxMillions Giveaway,” managed by the state Lottery, is designed to sway anyone still on the fence about getting a shot. It doesn’t matter which vaccine you get. What does matter is that you’ve protected yourself, your family, your neighbors, coworkers and community from COVID-19 and its distressingly severe variants. And plenty of people, apparently, are still on that fence.
As of Friday, more than 4.06 million people in Massachusetts were fully vaccinated. Another half-million or so had gotten the first of two shots. Still, some 6.9 million people live in this state, more than 6 million of whom are old enough to be vaccinated.
So, even though the vaccination rate in Massachusetts, at 67% fully vaccinated, is among the highest in the country, another third of the state’s population has yet to be brought into the fold. And Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration is hoping that $6.5 million worth of prizes gets us there.
Let’s hope that’s all it takes, even if it does come with a disappointing commentary about our communities and our willingness to act on each other’s behalf.
Massachusetts is hardly the first state, local government or business to offer vaccine prizes. For one week in May, New York gave scratch tickets and a chance at a $5 million grand prize to adults getting a COVID-19 shot at one of 10 sites around the state.
West Virginia gives $100 savings bonds to everyone ages 16 to 35 who gets a shot. That state also started a lottery, with five hunting rifles and five shotguns as prizes.
People magazine made a list of some of the more unusual rewards for COVID-19 vaccination: Alabamians who got the jab at a drive-up clinic in Talladega in mid-May also were allowed to take two laps around the 2.66-mile superspeedway in their own car. The Yankees and Mets offered vaccines at their respective stadiums and gave away tickets to games.
A promotion in Washington State called “Joints for Jabs” passed out marijuana as prizes. Perhaps inconveniently for those who’ve decided to partake, Nathan’s Famous is giving out free hot dogs to vaccinated people on the other side of the country, at its stand on Coney Island. Krispy Kreme is still giving the vaccinated a free doughnut per day, for the rest of the year.
Getting a vaccine, in other words, can make you rich, educated, fat and happy, those tickets to Yankee Stadium notwithstanding.
It’s hard to argue with these efforts in a country where not quite 53% of the vaccine-eligible population is fully vaccinated, and not quite two-thirds of those eligible have gotten at least one dose, even though the U.S. produces four major COVID-19 vaccines and has approved the public use of three of them. Vaccines by now are readily accessible, and our best protection against this deadly virus is still for as many people as possible to get them.
Still, it’s hard not to shake your head at the fact that prizes, whether college scholarships or shotguns or baseball tickets, are what it takes to motivate so many to avail themselves of a free vaccine that’s so important not only to their health but that of others around them.
Isn’t health reward enough? Isn’t protecting your family, friends and community enough of a prize? Isn’t it good enough to say that our hospitals are no longer overrun with patients in need of ventilators to breathe, and that our front-line workers are no longer exposed to a dangerous disease by virtue of their jobs? Who would have imagined this state of our country as everyone coalesced around a common effort in the early 1940s, never mind prizes as incentive but as they accepted rationing of basic goods?
It leaves a sour taste, to be sure. Of course, that’s nothing a Nathan’s Famous hot dog or Krispy Kreme doughnut can’t handle.