Study shows value in Vax-to-School lottery program in Ohio

For more than 10 months, the COVID-19 vaccines have been available to Ohioans, and many of us have eagerly rolled up our sleeves for them. Older Ohioans, who are especially at risk of death from the virus, have been the most motivated to get the shot. In fact, more than 88 percent of Ohioans ages 70 to 74 have been vaccinated. Conversely, many younger people have yet to receive the vaccine, with only 48 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds vaccinated — leaving more than half at risk of contracting COVID-19 at a time when the extremely infectious delta variant is among us and when many schools are looking for ways to reduce quarantines from classroom exposure.

To help motivate younger Ohioans to get the shot now and gain protection from the virus, on Oct. 4, we began accepting entries for our new Ohio Vax-2-School program. The program, operated through the Ohio Lottery Commission, is open to Ohioans ages 12 to 25 who have received a least one dose of the vaccine. And we are prepared to give children as young as 5 the opportunity to participate and win scholarships as soon as the Food and Drug Administration approves a COVID-19 vaccine for them.

The Ohio Vax-2-School program features drawings for 150 $10,000 scholarships and five $100,000 grand-prize scholarships. A total of $2 million in scholarships will be awarded in Ohio 529 College Advantage plans that can be used at the Ohio college, university, technical / trade school or career program of the winner’s choice. Ohio 529 accounts also can be used to pay student loan debt or to cover post-graduate programs and certificates.

We believe the Ohio Vax-2-School program will help influence young Ohioans to choose to receive the vaccination when they might have been procrastinating or ambivalent about it. The program is based on our successful, groundbreaking Ohio Vax-a-Million campaign that ran from May 13 to June 20 and awarded $1 million each to five vaccinated adults and college scholarships to five vaccinated youths. Many Ohioans were eager to take part and made time to get the vaccine they may have been putting off. In fact, in the first week of the Ohio Vax-a-Million campaign, Ohio saw a 106 percent increase in vaccinations. The boost in vaccination demand brought on by the incentive is detailed in a study by Neil K.R. Sehgal of Harvard University published Aug. 2 in The American Journal of Medicine, which found that an additional 114,553 Ohioans received vaccinations as a result of the Ohio Vax-a-Million program.

Aside from the incentives, the best reasons to get the vaccine are to protect individual health and the health of others. Medical experts recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for young people to protect them from contracting the virus, which is sometimes milder than what older adults experience but can still lead to lung infections and hospitalization. Younger children also can have complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a condition where the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or other organs become inflamed. The condition can be serious and require hospitalization.

Every Ohioan who gets vaccinated brings us one step closer to ending the pandemic. COVID-19 does not spread readily among vaccinated people and getting vaccinated can keep other, progressively worse, variants from emerging to threaten the community.

COVID-19 among young people also threatens the continuity of education. Vaccinations among young people will help prevent learning disruptions brought on by illnesses and quarantines. Vaccinated students don’t have to quarantine. And, without COVID-19 outbreaks, schools will be able to stay open and provide the classroom instruction needed for in-person learning, interaction with teachers, and important socialization. So with vaccinations, young people will be able to continue taking part, without disruption, in the activities they enjoy, such as sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities.

Young Ohioans and their parents who remain unsure about the vaccination should talk to their doctor. For those interested in entering the Ohio Vax-2-School program, visit www.ohiovax2school.com or call 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).

Bruce Vanderhoff, M.D., M.B.A., is director of the Ohio Department of Health.


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