VaxMillions not driving up shots yet

Early numbers show vaccinations declining, not rising

THE NEW VaxMillions lottery so far isn’t driving up the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in Massachusetts.

In the week before Gov. Charlie Baker announced the lottery on June 15, 175,071 doses were administered, or an average of 25,010 a day. In the first week after the announcement, the number of shots dropped to 114,437, or 15,625 a day. And in the week ending June 29 the total number of doses administered fell to 78,015, or 11,145 a day.

The goal of the lottery is to incentivize people who haven’t been vaccinated to get their shots. 

Thursday was the first day people could go online to register for the lottery, which is offering five prizes of $1 million apiece for people over 18 and five $300,000 scholarships for teens. Anyone who has been fully vaccinated can play, free of charge. The state is using $10 million in federal COVID relief funds to pay the cost of the lottery.

There’s still plenty of time to register. The first prize drawing isn’t until Monday, July 26, but so far it appears the vaccine holdouts are not rushing out to get their shots.

When Baker announced VaxMillions, he was taking cues from at least seven other states already testing the tactic. What most saw was that lottery announcements triggered immediate increases in new vaccinations but that rates sank again after a few weeks. 

Ohio’s vaccine lottery, which Baker modeled VaxMillions after, fueled a 43 percent increase in new vaccinations that lasted for about a week. In Oregon, vaccination rates decreased after a lottery was announced. In California, officials said the main impact was in preventing a further decline in vaccinations and boosting completion rates. 

Residents are only eligible for entry into the lottery after they are fully vaccinated, meaning that a person getting the Moderna shot would have needed to get the first jab last week to be eligible for all five drawings and maximize their winning chances. Opting for Pfizer extends the first-dose deadline to Thursday and particularly savvy procrastinators could claim a one-shot Johnson & Johnson prick as late as July 22. 

But even if numbers rise later in the game, Massachusetts set itself a higher bar for justifying its vaccine lottery. Robert Williams, research coordinator for the Alberta Gambling Research Institute, said that there are two factors that offset the cost of the ante: economic recovery and hospitalizations. Unlike most other states, Massachusetts implemented its lottery after it had already lifted all restrictions on businesses, meaning that economic recovery will plot its course independent from vaccination rates. That leaves the cost of preventable hospitalizations on one end of the scale and the $10 million bill for the lottery on the other. 

Since less than 20 percent of adults and only about a third of the state’s total population are still holding out on a first dose, Baker acknowledged that Massachusetts would be playing with a different deck of cards. “We have a slightly smaller window that we’re trying to succeed on here,” he explained. He said the lottery would increase visibility and publicity around vaccinations and an aide said marketing efforts will ramp up now that registration is underway. 

What may be lost in the glamour of the lottery is that it is far from the only push to get people vaccinated in the state. Massachusetts also invested millions in community-based initiatives including funds for community health centers, targeted programs to get vaccines to Tribal, Native, Indigenous, and Pacific Islander populations, and tailored faith-based movements. 

Massachusetts’ mobile vaccination program has delivered over 67,500 shots since it began in April. Whether or not the lottery delivers, it’s not as if Baker took his allowance and spent it all in one place. 

If it did work, the lottery would likely be reaching the right populations. Current rates lag among younger people, American Indians, and Black and Hispanic populations. Hampden County, the state’s poorest region, is also the area with the least vaccinations. 

Studies on who plays the lottery reflect these same patterns. Men are more likely than women to gamble on the lottery and do so more frequently. People with the lowest socioeconomic status and those in their 20s and 30s are more likely to play. Among white, Hispanic, and Black people, lottery play is comparable, but Asians are significantly less likely to try their luck, while Native Americans are much more likely to.

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Lily Robinson

Summer intern, CommonWealth
Massachusetts as a state is also especially well-equipped to run a successful lottery. It has the highest per-capita expenditure on lottery tickets in the nation. “If it’s going to work anywhere, it’s going to work in Massachusetts,” predicted Williams. 

Residents who are fully vaccinated can enter the lottery by filling out a basic form at vaxmillionsgiveaway.com or by calling 2-1-1 Monday through Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., or weekends 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Residents must register by July 22 to be eligible for the first drawing on July 26.