COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) A new study from Boston University is taking a closer look at Ohio’s Vax-A-Million program.
The Vax-A-Million program offered more than five million dollars is prizes to Ohioans – five one-million dollars cash prizes for vaccinated adults and five full-ride college scholarships to vaccinated teens.
The study found that while there was a slight increase in vaccinations. Ohio’s vaccination rate increased to a rate of 30 per 100,000 people, compared to 27 per 100,000 nationally.
However, researchers called the increase “statistically insignificant” and difficult to credit to Vax-A-Million.
“We thought it would be interesting to look a little deeper into the numbers, specifically because the Ohio announcement for the lottery occurred right around the same time as the expansion of the vaccine to 12 to 15 year-olds announced by the FDA,” said lead researcher Dr. Allan Walkey. “What we found is that the trends that were going on in Ohio after the announcement of the lottery were essentially identical to what was happening in the rest of the United States. So we had concluded that it was unlikely that the lottery had a strong effect on vaccine rates based on our findings.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the governor’s office is pushing back against the study’s findings.
“Both Governor DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health think this is a flawed study for a few reasons,” said Dan Tierney, Press Secretary for Governor DeWine. “The numbers are just different and we think one of the reasons why is that the Boston University study used CDC data on the date the data was reported. We use when we analyze Vax-A-Million, the date the vaccine was actually administered. If you’re going to look at whether a particular event, in this case announcing Vax A Million had an effect on someone getting a vaccine or not, you’re going to want to look at what day they received the vaccine not necessarily what day it was reported to a government agency in Washington.”
Tierney added that the free publicity the program generated for getting vaccinated by itself was worth more than the program awarded its winners.
“It changed the tenor of the conversation people were having about the vaccine. Let’s face the pandemic was not a fun topic to talk about,” Tierney said. “So the word of mouth advertising, the positive conversations about the vaccine had to have a positive effect that we can’t quantify but in the numbers, we can quantify, we know that Vax-A-Million did increase the number of Ohioans who were receiving it from the week prior.”
Despite the reported increase in vaccinations trailing off in the later weeks of the contest, Tierney says the Governor still considered the program a winner.
“Governor DeWine was very pleased. The first week bump exceeded his expectations and the fact that there was an additional bump the second week made Vax-A-Million a great success.”
The disagreement over data hasn’t stopped opponents of the Vax-A-Million program from highlighting the study with Ohio House Minority leader Emilia Sykes issuing a statement saying in part “Vax-a-Million further exposed what we already knew — that we’ve got our work cut out for us, and it will take more than monetary incentives to get the job done.”
However, Dr. Walkey stands by his research saying his team looked at both CDC and ODH data as a control for their study. He also says the study was peer-reviewed with no issue.
Walkey believes there was an increase in vaccinations and some people may have been motivated by the lottery. He also says there could be other explanations.
“Adults who maybe had children and needed to bring them in or people who felt that had fears about the vaccine that may have been allayed now that they were allowing children to get vaccinated,” Walkey said. “I would have loved to have found something different because then we would have found a strategy that works well to increase vaccination rates and that means we could use that in a more widespread manner to get people vaccinated.”
As the first of its kind in the country, Walkey says taking a closer look at the effect of Vax-A-Million on vaccines is important work regardless of politics.
“I don’t think the lottery was a bad idea and I actually applaud the governor for trying it and seeing if it would work,” Walkey said. ” At this point, I think most people who haven’t gotten the vaccine either haven’t been able to access it or, more likely, have very strong feelings about why they didn’t get the vaccine. Those strong beliefs about the vaccine are unlikely to be overcome with something like a lottery.”
Tierney says Governor DeWine is still looking at additional incentive programs for more Ohioans to get vaccinated with better odds than Vax-A-Million. However, Tierney said that the program would come if and when it is ready to be announced.