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Education better than incentives to promote shots

The last round of giveaways that cost taxpayers millions and millions of dollars in an effort to entice Ohioans to get a COVID-19 vaccine did little to achieve their goal.

Now, our governor says he’ll be moving forward with yet another incentive program, this one offering an increased number of prizes to increase the odds of winning. The prizes might be smaller, but the program still will come at taxpayer expense.

Gov. Mike DeWine has not provided details yet, but he’s hinted at the new incentive program, saying he’s concerned about the continued spread of the so-called “delta variant” of the coronavirus, as well as the fact that some parts of Ohio still have low vaccination rates.

The highly contagious delta variant, first identified in India and now spreading in more than 90 other countries, will be dominant in Ohio by month’s end, DeWine said. The governor also noted that 99 percent of Ohioans hospitalized with the coronavirus are unvaccinated.

About 5.74 million people in the state have received at least one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or about 49 percent of the total population, according to the Department of Health. About 5.37 million people, or 46 percent, have completed the process. Some counties, particularly in rural areas, have much lower rates.

In May, DeWine launched the national movement to offer millions of dollars in incentives to boost vaccination rates, including five million-dollar prizes and five full-ride college scholarships.

When Ohio’s first incentive program kicked off in May, we used this space to denounce the plan because we felt strongly it would not trigger the results the governor was seeking. We argued that the state’s COVID-19 relief funds were intended to help the masses in recovering physically and economically from the horrible pandemic that has affected so many of us. Those funds, we stated, should not be used to propel a limited few into a millionaire status.

Now, a study from Boston University’s School of Medicine released this month concluded that, indeed, Ohio’s Vax-a-Million Lottery did nothing to improve Ohio’s COVID-19 low vaccination rates.

Initially, the May 12 announcement had the desired effect, leading to a 43 percent boost in state vaccination numbers over the previous week. But numbers of vaccinations dropped afterward.

Multiple other states followed Ohio’s lead, including California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland and New York, with the effect on vaccinations hard to pin down.

The governor recently said he believes some people are motivated by big prizes, while others are motivated by smaller but still significant amounts of money with better odds.

“Those are the two, and we’ve tried one,” he said.

But DeWine is missing a viable third option that is a much more logical approach to the vaccine.

Dr. Allan Walkey, the author of the Boston University School of Medicine study, said this: “The resources devoted to vaccine lotteries may be more successfully invested in programs that target underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy and low vaccine uptake.”

Now, that’s wise advice that should be heeded in Ohio and elsewhere. Frankly, we believe that a campaign to educate and inform is a significantly better approach than using prize money and free gifts to incentivize the vaccines, as if this is some kind of a TV game show.

Ohio’s administration and state health officials should be rethinking their plan and find better ways to invest these funds on educating and informing the hesitant members of our public about the risks of COVID-19 and the developing new variants, along with the vaccine’s benefits.

editorial@vindy.com

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