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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Vax-A-Million Ends But More Than 50% Of Ohioans Remain Unvaccinated

The fifth and final winners of Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery will be announced Wednesday, concluding the five week-long vaccination sweepstakes that was one of the first of its kind in the country.

Ohio saw a 43 percent increase in vaccinationsafter the Vax-a-Million program was announced, but numbers steadily decreased each week since.

The incentive seemed to have primarily encouraged people who were interested in getting the vaccine but had not yet gotten around to it yet, said Sharona Hoffman, professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University.

“It didn’t revolutionize the whole scene,” she said. “It got some people who were delaying for some reason, or were not 100 percent sure, and then, it certainly wasn’t effective for everyone, which is a disappointment, but not so much a surprise.”

The incentive, which awards one vaccinated adult $1 million and a full-ride, four-year college scholarship to a child, was announced in mid-May after Ohio’s vaccination rate significantly dropped, compared to high uptake in March and April. Before the sweepstakes, vaccinations had declined to about 10,000 per day, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

In the three days after the lottery was announced on May 12,the state saw a 28 percent increase in vaccinations, according to ODH. On May 14, more than 30,000 new vaccinations were reported - the highest number recorded in several weeks, officials said.

Now, the state is seeing less than 10,000 new vaccinations per day, according to ODH data.

The goal of the program, DeWine said, was never for vaccinations to skyrocket – it was simply to turn the tide of the plummeting rates.

“It was extremely successful in the first week [of Vax-a-Million]. What it accomplished in the first week made it a success. The second week was a good week as well ... but clearly, the impact went down after the second week,” Gov. DeWine said in a press conference Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, 47 percent of Ohioans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines, lower than the national average of 55 percent.

To further encourage vaccinations after the lottery concludes Wednesday, DeWine has hinted that additional statewide incentives, including prizes from Ohio businesses, could be announced soon.

While these offers could work, Hoffman said smaller-scale incentives might be a better strategy going forward. Companies could offer their employees free parking or gift cards for getting the vaccine, she said.

“Having it reinforced at the more local and personal level is helpful,” Hoffman said. “If your employer says, ‘we really want you to do this and we’re investing our own time and money in this initiative,’ that can be very convincing.”

Ultimately, it may take employers requiring the vaccine to make a substantial impact, Hoffman added.  

In addition, officials should focus their attention on younger populations, who are lagging behind in vaccinations compared to older age groups, Hoffman said.

Outreach campaigns on social media and other platforms popular with teens and twenty-somethings could be an effective strategy, she said.

More than 3.4 million adults are entered for $1 million this week, an increase of more than 41,000 since the previous drawing, and 154,889 Ohioans age 12 to 17 have signed up for a chance to win the scholarship, according to Ohio Lottery officials.

Northeast Ohioans have won the sweepstakes nearly every week. A Shaker Heights native won the first $1 million drawing, and teens from Mayfield Village and Sheffield Lake won the scholarships in weeks 2 and 3, respectively.

Copyright 2021 WCPN

Anna Huntsman is a senior broadcast journalism student at Kent State with experience reporting for radio, television and digital platforms. She reports for the Ohio News Connection, Ohio's branch of the Public News Service, and helps run the weekend assignment desk at WKYC. Anna served as the General Manager of TV2, Kent State's student-led television station, during the 2017-18 school year. A Canton native, she is excited to join the WKSU team and tell stories in the Northeast Ohio community.