Governor Gavin Newsom Announces $116.5 Million in Vaccine Cash Incentives

To encourage Californians to get vaccinated against Covid-19, Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a “Vax for the Win” program offering a chance to win $1.5 million.

Vehicles queue up outside the Disneyland Resort parking for a Covid-19 vaccine in Anaheim, Calif., Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

(CN) — Free donuts, free beer and now, cash. Following on the heels of many other states trying to incentivize the unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves for the Covid-19 shot, Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a program on Thursday offering Californians $116.5 million in cash giveaways, including the chance to win part of a $15 million grand prize.

All Californians aged 12 and older who have had at least one Covid-19 dose are automatically entered to be one of 10 people selected for a $1.5 million prize on June 15 when the state officially “reopens.” 

Thirty more will receive $50,000 each through two “$50,000 Fridays” drawings, with 15 winners announced on June 4, and another 15 on June 11.

The winners will be notified by the California Department of Public Health and can decline to have their names revealed publicly, though they will be taxed on their winnings.

Those aged 17 and under will have their winnings placed in a savings account until they turn 18.

California’s “Vax for the Win” program also offers $100 million worth of financial incentives for people who are still unvaccinated. Starting Thursday, the next 2 million people to start and complete their Covid-19 vaccination will receive a $50 virtual prepaid card or a $50 grocery store gift card that they can spend at Kroger or Albertsons-owned stores like Safeway, Vons, or Food 4 Less.

The rewards will be issued through a text message or email with a card redemption code 7-10 days after their two-dose series of Pfizer or Moderna, or single dose of Johnson and Johnson.

The giveaway comes as California looks to hit its target of more than 70% people vaccinated by June 15. 

While roughly two-thirds of California adults have been vaccinated, that number has started to taper off. 

Some 2.1 million doses were administered three weeks ago, Newsom said, a number that has dropped to 1.9 million the last seven days.

“California has the lowest case rate in America. It has vaccinated more Americans than any other state,” Newsom said Thursday. But, he added, “We have seen a reduction in the number of people looking to get access to this vaccine.”

While the program is meant to coax the vaccine-hesitant to get the shot, Newsom said it’s also a big “thank you” to those who have already helped California achieve the lowest Covid-19 positivity rate in the country. 

“What about everybody else who did the right thing? Who two weeks ago, two months ago, took the time away from work, waited in a long line, maybe drove 50 miles into another county and got vaccinated, and gave us the momentum that put us in the position we are in today with the lowest case rates and lowest positivity rates in America? We also want to give you a chance to be rewarded,” he said.

Newsom’s announcement comes just days after the federal government gave the green light to states to encourage vaccines through lotteries and cash payments as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Congress passed in March.

Ohio’s “Vax-a-Million” program is credited as being the first such outreach campaign, and the first two $1 million winners were announced on Wednesday. Both are under the age of 18, so will receive a full-ride college scholarship to an Ohio public university in lieu of the cash prize.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said the program has boosted Ohio’s vaccination rate by 45%.

Other states have followed suit. Oregon launched its own “Take Your Shot, Oregon” $1 million lottery campaign, and Maryland is offering $2 million in cash prizes. New Yorkers are being offered a scratch-off ticket with a chance to win up to $5 million.

To spur younger people to get the shot, Newsom said the Golden State will be offering more mobile vaccine pop-ups, including at schools, without the need to register for appointments. 

Prize eligibility is not determined by immigration status. 

“We want everyone from a public safety standpoint to get vaccinated in our state,” he said. 

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