Could a $1 million vaccine sweepstakes backfire? Expert calls it a “Hail Mary” to get more vaccines in arms

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – On Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox said he would support a sweepstakes — like the one in Ohio that gives vaccinated residents a shot at $1 million per week for the next five weeks — if it led to a boost in Utah’s vaccine numbers.

“I would support doing exactly what Ohio is doing,” tweeted Cox Thursday, adding the state legislature would need to approve it.

But would the tactic work, and could it backfire?

“When you study barriers to getting the COVID vaccine, financial barriers don’t loom that large for the non vaccinators,” said Jake Jensen, an associate dean and communications professor at University of Utah.

“The financial barriers, interestingly enough, were looming larger for the vaccinators. So, for example, some people that vaccinated early said things like, ‘I need to get this because I need to get back to work,'” added Jensen.

Jensen said it’s likely the target audience here would be those “on the fence” people who might still be convincible, but haven’t yet been vaccinated. It’s unlikely, he acknowledges, that those firmly opposed to vaccines will have a change of heart.

Either way, could the financial incentive actually hurt the vaccine effort?

“I could see a trend like, the first week we did it, we got a nice little spike. But now, for some reason, it’s collapsing and going negative,” said Jensen.

“That might be a sign that something like this isn’t a very “sticky” reason to do it. And a lot of people who do it, when they don’t win, they then turn kind of negative on it. And go ‘well, I wouldn’t recommend it, you’re not going to win, anyways.’ So it might weirdly have a spike and drop effect. I would be looking for that pretty strongly,” added Jensen.

The first thing officials ought to do is survey the population to get a sense of whether a big financial sweepstake would drive residents to get vaccinated. Another option, Jensen said, would be to honor individual choices around the vaccine by attaching the vaccine to free health coverage.

Under this hypothetical plan:

If you receive medical care for COVID-19 and you’ve been vaccinated, it’s free. If you don’t get vaccinated, you’d be responsible for medical costs.

Jensen, a health and pandemic-related communication expert, says we are “on the clock” to get this right in coming weeks on the messaging front. It’s possible, he says, that officials might need Utahns to get vaccinated again in the future, and the danger of offering too much now could negatively impact efforts down the line.

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“If this is a move you make now, and later you offer much less incentive, do people say, ‘well, last time they offered a million dollars. Relative to a million dollars, this is nothing,'” said Jensen.

“It feels like a big Hail Mary move that could potentially remove a lot of other moves from your Rolodex of moves. Because they’ll be read as lesser,” added Jensen.

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