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Scholarship gimmick poor idea

Yet again, Gov. Mike DeWine finds himself in a difficult position when it comes to how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those between the ages of 12 and 25 are not getting the COVID-19 vaccine to the levels of older Ohioans, resulting in younger people getting the virus and some hospitalized.

DeWine’s fellow Republicans who control the state Legislature have no interest in letting him impose a mask mandate for more than 30 days without a fight, and the governor simply isn’t up for that battle.

So, DeWine is back to the failed formula he implemented earlier this year: weekly drawings using unused federal COVID-19 relief funds to entice younger people to get vaccinated.

DeWine claims the Vax-a-Million drawings — which started May 26, and gave away $1 million per week for five weeks and full scholarships for those under 18 — were successful.

A study done by the Boston University School of Medicine and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association “did not find evidence that a lottery-based incentive in Ohio was associated with increased rates of adult COVID-19 vaccinations.”

DeWine admits the program increased vaccinations for only about two weeks.

You can’t put a price on saving lives, but $5 million-plus was a poor investment.

And why does the state have all of this unused federal COVID-19 money lying around? Shouldn’t it be used for, you know, COVID-19 relief? If these drawings are permissible uses, there are likely many legitimate ways to spend the money.

Vax-2-School, as DeWine is calling the new program, is even more ill-conceived than Vax-a-Million.

Weekly drawings will take place over a five-week period, starting the week of Oct. 11, and open to only those between the ages of 12 and 25 as long as they’re already vaccinated or start the process a few days before each drawing.

Instead of actual money, there will be five $100,000 scholarships and 50 $10,000 scholarships awarded, presumably one of the $100,000 awards and 10 of the $10,000 scholarships given each of the five weeks.

The scholarships can be used for Ohio colleges and universities, career or technical education or job training. There’s no incentive if you’re already a college graduate, happily employed and have no need to go back to school. If the winnings could go toward payments of student loans it might be worth it, but that’s not an option.

Since this was announced Sept. 23, there hasn’t been a noticeable increase in vaccinations and there likely won’t be.

It’s sad that people need incentives to protect their health and regain to normalcy. But DeWine is trying a gimmick that didn’t move the needle last time.

“I can’t guarantee this will work. But I think it’s got a good shot at working,” he said.

About 46 percent of Ohioans between the ages of 12 and 25 are vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to about 73 percent of those over the age of 40.

Also, the highest-ever rates of COVID-19 cases in the state among school-age children have occurred since school started up.

A statewide indoor mask mandate for schools could help, particularly because those under the age of 12 can’t get a vaccine.

But, like “fetch,” that’s not going to happen.

There are vocal opponents to such a mandate, even as they’re being imposed in school districts throughout the state.

Republicans in the Legislature are looking to ban them.

Also, the Ohio House is considering a bill that prohibits some COVID-19 vaccine mandates by allowing exemptions for “reasons of conscience” and “natural immunity.”

It was referred to the House Rules and Reference Committee on Wednesday, the same day it was going to get a rushed floor vote and a day after a single House Health Committee hearing.

“There are a few additional issues our members would like more time to explore,” House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said about a delay in the vote.

It’s not as draconian as a proposal that would have lifted mandates on vaccinations of any kind. But that’s a pretty low bar to jump over.

There isn’t a simple solution to getting out of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s been going on since March 2020.

But DeWine’s scholarship incentives and a resistant state Legislature aren’t the answers.

Skolnick covers politics for Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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