The Corner

Health Care

A Better Way to Run a COVID-Vaccine Lottery

A man receives his coronavirus vaccine at the Bradfield Community Center in Lima, Ohio, March 29, 2021. (Megan Jelinger/Reuters)

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is drawing headlines for his idea of using federal stimulus money to hold five weekly $1 million lotteries only open to adults who have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Putting aside this question of whether this is a good idea, I confess that it is fascinating as an experiment in human behavior. Yet were I given a pool of $5 million and tasked with designing a vaccine lottery, I would de-prioritize the value of the prize and instead split the money into many smaller prizes that provide greater odds that somebody would win.

So, as an example, let’s say that instead of having one weekly winner of $1 million, Ohio had 1,000 weekly winners of $1,000?

Given that the adult population of Ohio is about 9 million people, only 1 out of every 1.8 million Ohio adults will be winners in the $1 million lottery. Yet were the state to pursue my approach, there would be a total of 5,000 winners, or about one in every 1,800 adults.

While that may still seem like long odds, one in 1,800 means that a lot of people in Ohio are going to know somebody who won the lottery, or at least have heard of somebody who won the lottery. It’s conceivable that one of your Facebook friends would have won, or would have posted about a friend or family member who won. And thousands of winners, spread across the state, would probably generate a lot of local news coverage.

Though a $1,000 prize doesn’t have the pizazz of a cool million, a recent Morning Consult poll found of unvaccinated adults found that 57 percent would “probably” or “definitely” get a shot in exchange for a $1,000 savings bond. So, if any other state is considering going the lottery route, it’s worth considering doing smaller, more numerous, prizes.

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