OPINION: Washington State’s Vaccine Lottery May Not Be Perfect, But It Works

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As if the experience we’ve had with COVID-19 in the past one and a half years hasn’t already been bizarre enough, we now have the possibility of winning a cash prize of $1 million in a “vaccine lottery” approved by Governor Jay Inslee. The program, titled “Shot of a Lifetime,” will feature prizes ranging from airline tickets, to college tuition assistance, to even the opportunity of receiving a free joint of marijuana from legal cannabis retailers. This relatively creative approach to encouraging citizens to get vaccinated is something that is still being disputed, and although winning money is something that anyone would want, the question arises on whether this is really the best incentive for Washington state’s citizens to get vaccinated.

All Washington state citizens who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine are automatically entered into the drawing for the lottery. There will be five drawings, occurring weekly throughout the month of June for citizens 18 years and up; two separate drawings will be made for minors aged 12 to 17. Besides the prizes of $250,000 that will be awarded in the first four drawings and the jackpot of $1 million on the last drawing, there will also be a plethora of other awards, which include Alaska Airline tickets; Seattle Mariners, Sounders, Storm and Seahawks game tickets; and even game-playing systems such as Xboxes and Nintendo Switches. For minors, there will be 30 individual prizes for one year of free tuition, which will be given to families through the Guaranteed Education Tuition program.

It is relatively odd to offer amounts of money and materialistic awards in return for getting a vaccination to help stop people from dying. Some could argue that the fact that people care more about winning an amount of money or a ticket to a game show rather than the millions of lives being lost to COVID-19 is disappointing and shouldn’t be encouraged. However, that is exactly the reason why a program like this should be implemented. It is true that people would be more likely to get vaccinated if there is a chance of them winning something, which is unfortunate — but, nevertheless, it will still encourage people to get vaccinated, which is what is truly needed with our state’s current position.

According to the Seattle Times, the funds for all the prizes for the lottery will be supported by the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, appropriated by the State Legislature. It is emphasized by the fund’s policies that its main focus is to “cover critical expenses arising from the COVID-19 emergency, including isolation and quarantine sites, staffing and the procurement of medical supplies and equipment for health care, and planning for safe reopening and recovery.” Although it may seem that the vaccine lottery won’t have a direct effect on the decrease in COVID-19 patients and deaths, it will indefinitely aid in the increase in vaccinations. We can only hope that this program will allow for a gradual approach toward a safe reopening of our state.

Washington isn’t the only state to have participated in the idea of awarding prizes to vaccinated citizens. California issued a statement declaring that they would give away a total of $1.5 million to 10 vaccinated residents, and New Jersey has even confirmed that they will be backing breweries offering free beers to those who are vaccinated. Seeing an example of how this program would be employed in other states can hopefully inspire a similar process in Washington state.

Although it would have seemed better morally to approach the issue of vaccination with a different incentive rather than offering bounds of money and prizes, the fact remains: this method works. Currently, it shouldn’t matter in what way we approach the idea of encouraging citizens to get vaccinated — simply increasing the number of vaccinated citizens in Washington state should be our main concern and that is what the vaccine lottery plans to do.