'Murica: Ohio sees increase in vaccinations after announcing vaccine lottery

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Apart from the 4th of July, nothing makes me feel as patriotic as the idea of people being lured into getting vaccinated against a disease they have like a one-in-5,000 chance of dying from by a one-in-four-million chance of winning a jackpot.

Truly we are a nation of Homer Simpsons.

Whatever works, though. Whatever works.

State health officials said Monday that more than 25,400 Covid-19 vaccine shots were administered Friday, two days after the program was announced, making it the highest vaccination day in three weeks.

Maybe more telling were the people who got vaccinated. Vaccinations for residents ages 30 to 74 spiked by 6 percent after weeks of steady decline.

“Not only have we achieved our goal of increasing public awareness and interest, but we have slowed what was a consistent decline, and in certain age groups we’re seeing an increase again,” state Health Director Stephanie McCloud said. “This is doing exactly what we intended it to do.”

I wrote about the Ohio vaccine lottery last week after it was announced but the official webpage is now available. If you’re a Buckeye and you’re vaccinated, note that you need to sign up. The state won’t automatically register you via your vaccination records. A question, meanwhile: How confident should we be that it’s the lottery, not some other vagary of the vax effort, that led to Ohio’s recent uptick? Well, look at the state’s data:

You can see the “lottery effect” clearly. Last Monday, two days before it was announced, Ohio did just 9,000 shots, its lowest weekday in a long time. In previous weeks, weekday numbers were fairly constant, which portended a bad stretch for Ohio’s vaccination effort — until DeWine made his announcement on Wednesday night. The numbers immediately jumped. On Friday the state did 25,000+ shots, nearly triple Monday’s number and around a 40 percent increase over the previous Friday. Last Thursday, the first day after the announcement, also topped the previous Thursday with 21,000 doses compared to 17,000 seven days previously. And as you can see from the graph, the state doesn’t typically see big increases in vaccinations on Thursday and Friday, as it did last week. If anything, Thursday/Friday was often slower than other weekdays during previous weeks.

The lottery may not end up producing a giant surge in vaccinations but it seems to have goosed numbers that were on their way down into at least holding steady with vaccination levels during previous weeks.

Ultimately, when the five weeks of lottery drawings are over, some statistician will give us a guesstimate about how many holdouts were tempted into getting their shots by a state jackpot who would otherwise have held out. Then we’ll be able to calculate how much the state ended up paying in the form of lottery prizes to bring each individual holdout down off the fence. One back-of-the-envelope figure: On the Thursday and Friday of the previous week, the state did around 35,000 doses. On Thursday and Friday of last week, it did 46,000. The question is, how many of those were adults versus kids aged 12-15, who also became eligible for Pfizer’s vaccine mid-week last week and aren’t eligible for the lottery. If we assume that the “extra” vaccinations split evenly among kids and adults then around 5,000 adults were enticed by the lottery, which shakes out to $1,000 a head given the $5 million in lottery prizes allocated for this effort. But the more people continue to go get vaxxed for their chance to win, the lower the “price” will get.

If he really wants to move the needle, maybe DeWine should start leaning on Ohio’s employers to give workers a little time off to go get their shots. There’s various polling and anecdotal data suggesting that a meaningful share of vaccine holdouts are perfectly willing to go get inoculated. They just haven’t managed to find a break from work and/or family long enough to go do it and then manage the side effects, if there are any:

Give ’em a day off and a lottery ticket and we’ll be at herd immunity in no time. Exit question: Is it time for national vaccine powerball? The question answers itself.