California will hand out more than $116 million in cash prizes to residents who get vaccinated ahead of the state’s June 15 reopening, with Governor Gavin Newsom calling the incentive program the largest of its kind in the US.
Newsom announced the new vaccine initiative during a Thursday press conference, outlining what he called a “multi-faceted” effort to encourage Californians to take the jab. Dubbed “Vax for the Win,” the program offers three tiers of rewards, including prizes up to $1.5 million.
“The state of California today is announcing the most significant incentive program in the United States of America,” the governor said. “We’re putting aside more resources than any other state in America, and we’re making available the largest prizes of any state in America, for those that seek to get vaccinated.”
Starting Thursday, the state will begin handing out $50 “incentive cards” to 2 million fully vaccinated residents, which Newsom said would be distributed on a “first come, first serve basis.” Participants, who are automatically enrolled once they receive an immunization, will be able to redeem the reward either as a gift card for one of several grocery store chains, or as a prepaid cash card that can be spent anywhere.
In addition to the cards, two separate lotteries will also be held next month, with $50,000 prizes set to be doled out to 30 people between June 4 and June 11, while another 10 residents will win $1.5 million in a drawing on June 15 – the day California plans to lift its Covid-19 restrictions and fully reopen its economy.
The incentive program mirrors similar efforts across a number of states, with Ohio, New York, Maryland, Oregon and Colorado also offering inducements to boost their vaccination numbers. California’s, however, is the largest to date, and will allow all residents aged 12 and older to be eligible to win. Though some states offered non-monetary prizes for minors, all but California restricted cash rewards to adults only.
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Newsom said the project is needed as California has seen a sharp drop in immunizations in recent weeks, noting that only 1.9 million people had been vaccinated over the last seven days, compared to the state’s previous peak of 3 million per week.
“So we’re starting to see a decline in the total number of doses administered on a weekly basis,” the governor said. “Not as precipitous as some other states, but we are mindful that if we continue down this path and this trend, we’re not going to get where all of us need to be.”
We need to do more, and we need to do better.
Ohio’s “Vax a Million” program has seen some of the best results of any incentive program to date, with the state government reporting a 28% jump in vaccinations after it began. However, the effort was launched just one day after Governor Mike DeWine announced that youths aged 12-15 were eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, likely helping to drive the numbers up in addition to the cash rewards on offer.
New York, meanwhile, has faced more difficulty, seeing a 55% drop in vaccinations since the state’s April peak, despite its “Vax & Scratch” lottery offering prizes worth up to $5 million, in addition to other freebies.
While California imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the nation, Newsom voiced hopes that the new inducements would help the state return to a “semblance of normalcy” and ensure it is ready to reopen by the June 15 deadline.
“This is all in an effort to incentivize and build momentum, and put a date with some expectation that by June 15, we’ll move north of that 70% threshold,” he said, referring to the state’s vaccination target for adults.