Over the next few days, however, I kept coming back to it. We needed something aspirational to generate excitement and motivate those on the fence to get vaccinated now.
I thought about how much money the country had already spent fighting the virus, including millions of dollars in health care costs, the lost productivity and the lost lives. Frankly, the lottery idea would cost a fraction of that — about $5.6 million, according to our estimates.
I remembered a quote from Bill Veeck, the former Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox owner: “To give one can of beer to a thousand people is not nearly as much fun as to give 1,000 cans of beer to one guy.”
I was convinced that the excitement of people talking for weeks about who would be next to win a million dollars would significantly increase vaccinations. Early on a Saturday morning, May 8, I sent a memo to my team with a proposed lottery structure. I asked them to meet that afternoon and discuss how to make it work. By that Monday, I had canceled my scheduled travel, and we spent hours working through the logistics. Two days later I was giving my address to the people of Ohio announcing the creation of Vax-a-Million.
We decided to stretch out the five drawings, figuring that each time a winner is revealed, it would lead to more enthusiasm and more vaccinations. Children ages 12 to 15 had just become eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, so we added a full, four-year college scholarship. The first drawing winners were announced on Wednesday. More winners will be announced each Wednesday, and vaccination records will be verified for winners.
The results have exceeded my wildest expectations. Since the announcement, available data suggests that shots are up 49 percent among people ages 16 and over in Ohio and have increased 36 percent among minorities and 65 percent among Ohioans living in rural areas. Vaccinations among 16- and 17-year-olds have increased 94 percent. We’ve been contacted by a number of states inquiring about the lottery, and we have shared details of our experience so far.
The publicity the lottery has generated has spread the word more cost effectively than a P.S.A. campaign would at this point, generating over $23 million worth of free ad equivalency about vaccinations. According to one estimate, preventing just 40 severe Covid-19 cases requiring hospitalization would pay for the entire program.