State launches $1m Lottery game to promote vaccinations

'If you're not vaccinated, you can't play,' Baker says

STILL ON THE fence about getting vaccinated? 

Starting July 1 a Massachusetts vaccine card could be worth $1 million. Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Tuesday the launch of VaxMillions, a vaccine lottery meant to incentivize residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“We’re hopeful that this giveaway will give another reason … for people to choose to get vaccinated here in the Commonwealth over the next couple of months,” Baker said at a press briefing announcing the game.

VaxMillions drawings will be conducted by the Massachusetts State Lottery using a random number generator. Any legal resident age 12 and up who is fully vaccinated, and received their shots in Massachusetts, is eligible to enter beginning July 1. There will then be one drawing per week beginning July 26 and ending August 27.

Adults will be eligible for one of five $1 million cash prizes. Children aged 12 to 17 can enter to win one of five $300,000 scholarships in the form of a 529 College Savings Plan account managed by the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority.

The giveaway is based on initiatives already in place in other states, such as Ohio and California.

It does not matter when a person received their shots and anyone who is not fully vaccinated when the lottery begins can enter at any point after they receive their final dose and before the last drawing. The only rule, “if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t play,” said Baker.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who oversees the State Lottery, the net proceeds from which fund local aid to cities and towns, said that the lottery has always been mission driven and that VaxMillions is no different. “We’ve always been about people — people in every single area of the state, and this couldn’t be more about people than anything else we could do,” she said of the Lottery partnership with the Baker administration to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

In developing VaxMillions, the Baker administration conferred with officials from California and Ohio where similar programs are already in place. Baker said that Ohio’s Vax-a-Million campaign was key to increasing visibility and reaching hesitant populations there, especially men aged 20 to 40.

Baker highlighted that Massachusetts’ vaccination rates trail only Vermont’s, with over 80 percent of adults having received at least one shot. 

But even as the state approaches having 4 million people fully vaccinated, rates of new vaccinations are declining and there are stark demographic differences in who has been immunized. All told, 46 percent of Black and 44 percent of Hispanic residents have received at least one dose compared with 62 percent of white residents.

There are also significant regional differences in vaccination rates. Hampden County has the lowest rate in the state, with only 51 percent of its population having received at least one dose. The county is also the poorest in the state. Dukes County has the highest rate, with 89 percent of residents vaccinated. 

The Baker administration has promoted vaccine accessibility through multiple programs so far. Residents who cannot get to a vaccine location are eligible for the state’s COVID-19 in-home vaccine program. Residents call an intake line, where they are registered with an in-home vaccine provider, and then called within five business days to schedule an appointment to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or Pfizer vaccine for individuals 12-17, in their home.

Employers, schools, community organizations, and other groups can sign up for the Commonwealth’s mobile vaccination program. Vaccination providers travel to the organization’s site to administer vaccines and will return three to four weeks later to deliver second doses if using the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

This week, residents can also get vaccinated aboard the Vax Express, an MBTA commuter rail train that has been converted into a mobile vaccine clinic. The train will make stops in Boston, Worcester, Lowell, Lawrence, and Fitchburg from June 16 through 20. The Vax Express is targeting vaccine access in communities with low vaccination rates.

The Baker administration announced another initiative on Tuesday to combat the pandemic: a smartphone tool that allows users to anonymously share and receive information on possible exposure to COVID-19.

The new MassNotify system lets residents activate a cell phone app that uses Bluetooth technology to exchange random codes between users’ phones without location tracking or exchanging personal information. When a person tests positive for COVID-19 in the state, they are texted instructions for anonymously sharing their results, and users of the app who were near that person will receive an anonymous alert regarding their possible exposure.

MassNotify, which was developed in conjunction with Apple and Google, is free and can be activated in the settings of an iPhone or Android. Massachusetts joins 28 other states that are already using similar exposure alert systems.

Baker also noted that today marks the end of the state of emergency in Massachusetts that has been in place since March 10 of 2020. “We’ve made it through the past 16 months because of the resiliency, kindness, creativity, imagination, and commitment that the people of Massachusetts made to themselves and to one another,” he said.

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Baker said COVID-19 cases in the state are down 99 percent from their peak in January and hospitalizations are down 93 percent. Baker attributed the decline to vaccination efforts, saying “the best tool we have to drive down and out COVID-19 once and for all is for more people to continue to get vaccinated here in Massachusetts.”

He also announced that the COVID-19 Command Center, established in March of 2020 and overseen by Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to coordinate the state’s pandemic response, is being shut down. Baker also said a medical advisory board that met weekly with him, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Sudders throughout the pandemic met formally for the final time last week.