California's New Vaccine Lottery Offers Cash Prizes Even To The Already-Vaxxed

Eligible residents could win up to $1.5 million as part of the state’s “Vax for the Win” program as well as guaranteed prepaid grocery cards.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after touring the vaccination clinic at City College of San Francisco on April 06, 2021 in San Francisco, California. | Getty Images
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after touring the vaccination clinic at City College of San Francisco on April 06, 2021 in San Francisco, California. | Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has introduced the state's latest attempt to get the majority of residents vaccinated ahead of its full reopening by offering a chance to win up to $1.5 million.

The governor announced the state’s “Vax for the Win” program on Thursday to encourage the nearly 12 million eligible Californians who have not yet gotten the COVID-19 vaccine to get the shot. The program includes a guaranteed $50 prepaid grocery card for the next two million people who get the vaccine, along with automatic entry into much larger cash prizes.

“We’re not where we need to be,” Newsom told NowThis, adding that more than 37 million doses have been administered in the country’s most populous state. While two thirds of adults in California have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Newsom, only about 20% of 12 to 15 year olds have.

The $116 million incentive program is a way to motivate unvaccinated people who may still be hesitant or feel they don’t need to get the shot now that case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths are decreasing nationwide.

“There is real vaccine hesitancy out there,” Newsom continued. “There just may be also folks that are just like, ‘well, I’m not even hesitant, I’m just not that interested in it because looks like we’ve got this and everything seems to be turning the corner.’”

The governor’s goal of getting 70% to 80% of all eligible residents vaccinated aligns with the national goal set by President Joe Biden, which includes administering at least the first dose of the vaccine to 70% of Americans by July 4.

The “Vax for the Win” program will automatically enroll those who get the shot into a lottery, along with retroactively entering people who have already been vaccinated. 30 winners will be selected on June 4 and June 11 to win $50,000, while 10 winners will be selected on June 15 to win $1.5 million. Winners will have to complete their full vaccination in order to collect the prize money.

California isn’t the only state to use cash prizes as an incentive; earlier this month, Ohio introduced its own lottery where five vaccinated residents would be selected to win $1 million over the course of five weeks. Maine started an incentive that offers vaccinated residents a free fishing and hunting license, an L.L. Bean gift card, tickets to local events, and other freebies. New Jersey launched the “Shot and a Beer” program that offers a free beer, while Connecticut introduced a similar deal.

As the reopening date in California approaches, Newsom said aside from prizes, the state has invested in other programs to try and boost communities’ access to vaccines; particularly Black and Latinx communities, which have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 40% of the California’s population is Latinx, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but only about 26% of Latinx residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

“We’re doing pop-up sites, mobile sites, as we’re at synagogues, as we’re at churches, as we’re doing walk-in clinics, as we’re doing school-based sites,” Newsom continued. “Our commitment to equity is second to none,”

Newsom is confident about the state’s reopening plan on June 15, calling the plunge in new COVID-19 cases and decreased community spread in California “profound.”

“We're guided by science, we’re guided by the data and we’ve been very sober about our approach to this,” Newsom said. “It’s been a challenge — been a long year. No one’s naive, no one’s denying that, but we’re confident in June 15.”