Vaccine Lotteries Don’t Work, Study Says

Posted on: October 18, 2021, 08:59h. 

Last updated on: October 18, 2021, 09:11h.

States that plowed federal coronavirus funds into so-called “vaccine lotteries” may have wasted their time and money, according to a new study.

vaccine lottery
A needle is primed to deliver a shot against COVID-19. But lotteries do not appear to be motivating the vaccine-hesitant. (Image: Patrick Fallon/Getty)

Research published Friday by the University of Denver suggests vaccine lotteries simply don’t work. It could be that direct cash payments and information campaigns are a far better way of incentivizing people to get shots.

Scratch and Vax

States began to adopt the lotteries from May 2021 onwards as vaccine rates began to level off. Ohio got the balls rolling with its “Vax-a-Million” campaign, while New York even launched a “Scratch and Vax” program, giving out free scratch-off tickets to the newly inoculated. All for nothing, according to the University of Denver.

The study looked at the 19 states that introduced lottery draws to encourage their population to take up vaccination. Researchers calculated the number of shots administered per 1,000 people, both before and after lotteries were introduced. Then they compared the figures to those in states with no vaccine lotteries.

Adjusting for a variety of factors, such as a region’s wealth, population, the number of COVID-19 cases, and political leanings, researchers found “no statistically significant” difference between states with and without lotteries.

All in Vein?

Andrew I. Friedson is an associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver, and one of the report’s authors. He speculates there might be several reasons for the inefficacy of vaccine lotteries.

It may be that the lack of a guaranteed outcome in a lottery draw fails to motivate people, which suggests direct payments would be more effective. That might especially be true where people are anxious about vaccines, because they have been exposed to misinformation.

[Lottery] drawings were not, by any means, an informative vaccine promotional strategy,” wrote Friedson. “It is highly possible that putting funds toward clear and complete messaging on vaccination would have been far more effective, such as awareness campaigns or more aggressive countermeasures against misinformation.”

“Everyone was rooting for this to work, but you’ve got to check,” Friedson later told Bloomberg. “The way the evidence has stacked up, it seems that there are better ways to spend our money.”

There is no comparable study that looks at the effectiveness of direct payments as a motivator for vaccination. But Forbes notes that in September, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was touting his $100 vaccination reward program as the catalyst for a 40 percent rise in people getting shots. However, a similar initiative in West Virginia failed to move the needle.