Million-dollar lotteries. College scholarships. Beer.
States are doing what they can to encourage more people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Ohio has just announced its second Vax-a-Million winner and its second college scholarship winner, with three more winners of the weekly lottery to come. Illinois offers a free beer or a free shot of other alcoholic beverage.
President Joe Biden says he is making a major vaccination push in June. He’s looking for partners to offer free sports tickets, free child care, free beer (even though he himself abstains) and other incentives to get vaccines into people’s arms.
And here in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice has announced plans for a bundle of prizes to be awarded on June 20, West Virginia Day, to encourage state residents to be vaccinated. The top prizes are $1 million; two four-year scholarships open to people ages 12 to 25; two custom pickup trucks; 25 state park weekend packages; five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses; five custom rifles; and five custom shotguns.
All he needs is for a recording of the late Johnny Olson to yell, “Come on down! You are the next contestant on ‘The Price is Right’!” Justice didn’t say whether as with game shows these prizes will be subject to state or federal income tax.
Incentives or silliness? Has any other pandemic required bribes to induce people to their civic duty to be vaccinated? Or has any other pandemic seen such a large number of people to distrust their government officials in their attempts to restrain it?
Fifteen months ago, governors, health departments and others in authority took it upon themselves to decide which businesses could stay open and which people could work. They decided which parks and playgrounds could be open and which couldn’t. They took it upon themselves to micromanage a large part of our economy and our social lives.
It didn’t take long for many people to grow tired of forced closures and mask mandates and the like. As summer 2020 turned into fall 2020, civil disobedience became the norm for many people. By then society had separated itself into two factions: people who took every precaution against the coronavirus and people who decided to take their chances.
The vaccines have been available for months now. Most people who wanted to be vaccinated have been. Those who don’t trust the vaccines have chosen to take the risk of not being vaccinated. Governors and others have lost their power over the second group, and that group could cause them trouble when the next elections come around.
So lotteries and free beer are a sideshow that may sway some people, but really, the dividing lines in society have already been drawn. Governors have their target numbers, and individuals have theirs. Vaccination numbers might increase significantly once the vaccines move from emergency status to fully approved, but for now too many people distrust them.
Maybe these incentives will lead more people to the vaccination line. But still the precedent has been set and the question must be asked: When the next pandemic comes, will governors need to up the prize list, and earlier?