Ohio Offers $1 Million Lottery, 4-Year College Scholarships to Entice More People to Get Vaccinated.
As demand for COVID vaccines among adults drops off, and surplus vaccines pile up, government officials get creative in their push to vaccinate all, especially the young. It might be legal — but is it ethical?
As demand for COVID vaccines among adults falls short of public health officials’ goals, more and more states and businesses are rolling out incentives to counter “vaccine hesitancy.”
This week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine raised the stakes to a whole new level when he announced Ohio will give five people $1 million each, plus another five people four-year college scholarships in a lottery scheme designed to persuade young Ohioans to get the COVID vaccine.
Some Ohio lawmakers criticized DeWine’s plan, saying there were better ways to spend the state’s COVID relief funds. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he wasn’t sure the plan was legal, but even if it is, “just because a thing may be legally done does not mean it should be done.”
Mary Holland, Children’s Health Defense president and general counsel, agreed with Yost, though for reasons having nothing to do with state budgets.
“It is not explicitly illegal for governments and corporations to offer incentives for an unapproved medical procedure, such as the Emergency Use Authorization COVID vaccines. Nonetheless, incentives like the Ohio lottery violate the underlying principle of informed consent, which requires that there be no deceit or overreaching and that subjects fully understand the medical decision they are making.”
Holland said she doubts the “people impoverished after a year of lockdowns and lining up for these incentive programs understand that these products are unlicensed and unapproved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and that they have already resulted in reports of more than 4,000 deaths and more than 190,000 adverse events.”
The Defender first reported on the “murky ethics” of paying people to get the COVID vaccine in January. Since then, more and more businesses, colleges, and local and state governments have rolled out everything from free donuts, beer and baseball tickets, to $50 debit cards, $100 gift cards and $100 savings bonds.
Even before Ohio’s plan to let 12 to 17-year olds who get vaccinated enter a lottery to win a free ride to one of the state’s universities, colleges still undecided about trying to mandate the vaccines were offering an array of enticements, causing some to question the ethics of using cash and gifts to influence people’s decisions about a medical intervention.
Last month, Erin Bronchetti, associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and co-author of a study on using cash to persuade college students to get the flu vaccine, told Inside Higher Ed she didn’t have a problem with the use of smaller incentives to motivate students who aren’t getting vaccinated because of time constraints.
But for larger incentives, Bronchetti cautioned universities to consider that low-income students could be swayed to make a medical decision they would not otherwise, which is more ethically questionable.
“We might want to be aware of the fact that low-income students or students who are cash-strapped are more sensitive or responsive to these financial incentives, so to the extent that we’d be influencing behavior, it might be on those particular subgroups to a larger extent.”
Brochetti said campus leaders need “to strike a balance between what will move behavior, what will cause people to overcome particularly those biases like procrastination or a little bit of uncertainty … while not offering an incentive that’s so large as to feel coercive.”
Below are just a few of the perks people can get for showing proof of vaccination:
- Full-time students at Rowan University in New Jersey who show proof of vaccination will score a $500 credit towards their fall courses; students living on campus will get another $500 credit toward housing.
- West Virginia said it will give $100 savings bonds to people aged 16-35 who get the shot.
- The city of Detroit announced it will give $50 gift cards to anyone who convinces or escorts a fellow citizen to get vaccinated.
- Krispy Kreme is giving away free donuts to anyone who’s had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.
- Budweiser is giving away $5 virtual debit cards to the first 10,000 people who show their vaccine status.
- White Castle is giving away free desserts until the end of May for the vaccinated.
- Cincinnati Reds fans can get view-level tickets for $10 when they show proof of one COVID vaccine dose.
- Kentucky is offering free lottery tickets.
- Indiana vaccine sites are giving away free Girl Scout cookies.
Reasons for not getting the vaccine vary
A CNN poll taken last month found 26% of U.S. adults will not get the shot. There are a number of reasons people say they don’t want the COVID vaccine.
A survey conducted by the Delphi Group at Carnegie Mellon University, in partnership with Facebook, found 45% of people hesitant about getting the vaccine feared side effects, and 40% were concerned about vaccine safety.
Vaccine safety is at the forefront of many people’s minds. The latest data show that between Dec. 14, 2020 and May 7, a total of 192,954 total adverse events were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, including 4,057 deaths.
Some who are hesitant or unwilling to get the COVID vaccine said they don’t trust vaccines, while others said they doubted whether or not they work. And some people are declining the vaccine because they don’t believe they need it, according to the Delph Group survey.
A 45-year-old woman from Milwaukee declined the COVID shot when her doctor’s office called to see if she was interested in getting it. “Everyone’s body must be exposed to germs in order to build immunity to them,” she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Otherwise, we would all be sick all the time.”
Young people are also on record as being uninterested in the COVID vaccine. An NBC LX/Morning Consult survey found 26% of Generation Z adults would not get the shot.