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A $1 Million Lottery Didn’t Improve COVID-19 Vaccination. Here’s What Did

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A $1 Million Lottery Didn't Improve COVID-19 Vaccination
  • studyTrusted Source recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that vaccine lotteries didn’t appear to make a significant impact.
  • Public health experts suspect the lotteries did not change people’s underlying beliefs about the vaccines.
  • Additionally, many people still face barriers to vaccination.

In an effort to drive up vaccination rates, many cities and states launched vaccine lotteries to entice people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 with a chance to win grand prizes and large sums of money.

Until now, it’s been unclear whether and how those lotteries motivated people to get inoculated.

studyTrusted Source recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the lotteries didn’t appear to make a significant impact.

By comparing vaccination rates in Ohio — where the Vax-a-Million lottery was announced mid-May — to vaccinated rates across the United States, the researchers concluded that the lotteries were not linked to an increase in vaccinations.

It’s unclear why this may be, but public health experts suspect the lotteries did not change people’s underlying beliefs about the vaccines and that, lottery or not, many people still face barriers to vaccination.

The lotteries weren’t associated with an increase in vaccinations 

The researchers specifically looked at vaccination rates in Ohio before and after the Vax-a-Million lottery was announced on May 15, 2021.

They then compared Ohio’s vaccination rates with U.S. vaccination rates and controlled for potential contributing factors, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Allan Walkey, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and a physician at Boston Medical Center, was expecting to learn that the lotteries incentivized people to get vaccinated.

However, the study results suggest the lotteries were not associated with an increase in vaccinations.

“I was surprised and somewhat disappointed. I was hopeful to observe a strategy that clearly increased vaccination rates,” Walkey told Healthline.

Why did the lotteries fall short?

There are likely many reasons that the vaccine lotteries may have failed to drive a significant increase in vaccination rates.

Walkey suspects that people who remain unvaccinated have strong personal beliefs preventing them from getting vaccinated. Others face barriers to accessing the vaccines.

“In either case, a lottery would not be expected to have a strong effect. Lotteries do not change beliefs or improve access,” Walkey said.

Rohit Khanna, a public health epidemiologist and the managing director of Catalytic Health, said some people — particularly those who are vaccine hesitant — may have simply not been aware of the vaccine lotteries.

“It is quite possible that the state of Ohio may have used tools and platforms to communicate the lottery that did not reach the intended target audience,” Khanna said.

Khanna also suspects that the news cycle, which included reports of blood clots and side effects associated with some shots, may have counterbalanced any positive effect the lotteries had on vaccination rates.

Given the limitations of the study, it’s difficult to pinpoint if and why the vaccine lotteries failed to drive more interest in the shots.

“Without controlling for this negative news, it is impossible to tell if this was the reason people did not get vaccinated,” Khanna said.powered by Rubicon ProjectCORONAVIRUS UPDATESStay on top of the COVID-19 pandemic

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What might drive up vaccination rates? 

Vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon.

Though the pandemic has shed light on people’s fears around vaccination, the same hesitancies have been observed with vaccines for the flu, HPV, measles, and hepatitis B, said Khanna.

The researchers hope these findings can be used to inform future vaccine uptake strategies.

Given the findings, Walkey hopes resources funneled into the lotteries could be reallocated into programs that target the underlying reasons for vaccine hesitancy.

Many public health experts believe that going into communities with low vaccination rates and tapping into local leaders, like clergy members, community leaders, local physicians, can increase trust in the shots.

Public health experts would also like to see more education and awareness about the vaccines and the protection they confer.

“Other strategies suggest that health literacy and the ability to communicate the importance of vaccination and inoculation in a format that is easily understood by the target audience is a key to boosting vaccination uptake,” Khanna said.

Walkey hopes more research will be conducted on what works and doesn’t work when it comes to tackling vaccine hesitancy.

“It is important that we rigorously evaluate strategies to improve vaccination rates, so we can learn, improve, and maximize use of our resources,” Walkey said.

The bottom line

A new study evaluating the effectiveness of vaccine lotteries has found that the lotteries were not associated with an increase in vaccination uptake.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why this may be, but health experts suspect it’s a mix of factors, like personal beliefs and barriers, that were unlikely to be influenced by the lottery incentives.

In the future, public health experts would like more research conducted on strategies that can boost vaccination rates.HEALTHLINE NEWSLETTERGet our twice weekly wellness email

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