OLYMPIA, Wash. — The $1 million COVID-19 “carrot” is here.
Washington state will give away more than $2 million in prizes as an incentive to lead people to get their COVID-19 vaccines, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday, including a $1 million grand prize.
Those cash drawings are the biggest part of an incentive package that also includes tuition money for students and tickets to flights and sports games, among other things.
The vaccine incentive arrives as the virus is in decline in Washington and around the nation. But obstacles remain to getting shots in a high proportion of state residents.
In a news conference where the governor was joined by state health officials and Washington State Lottery Director Marcus Glasper, Inslee called the move an investment to keep residents safe.
“Good luck in the lottery,” said the governor. “This is the most important one you’ll ever be in.”
The plan for cash giveaways will involve one drawing each week for $250,000 across four weeks for all vaccinated residents. At the end of four weeks, there will be an another drawing — for a full $1 million.
The lottery will automatically gather names from the state Department of Health’s immunization database. That means vaccinated residents don’t need to do anything to be entered in the drawings, which have been dubbed the “Shot of a Lifetime.”
People will become eligible after they are recorded in the state database for their first shot, said Glasper. That includes people who have already been vaccinated earlier in the pandemic. The state lottery will conduct two weekly drawings starting Tuesday. One drawing will be for people 18 and older, and the other will be for children ages 12 through 17, he said.
The $1 million grand-prize drawing will be held July 13.
Additionally, the state will distribute almost $1 million to Washington’s four-year public universities and two-year technical and community colleges to conduct their own drawings for free tuition and expenses for students who have been vaccinated.
At the same time, officials will offer 30 prizes of one year’s worth of college tuition credits to children between 12 and 17 years old. Those credits, provided through the Guaranteed Education Tuition program, will be distributed to families.
All Washington residents are eligible regardless of citizenship, according to the governor’s office, though proof of residency in the state is required.
A few small groups of people aren’t eligible for the lottery: current staff members working at the governor’s office, the Washington State Lottery and the state Department of Health, or DOH. Household members of those staff are also ineligible.
One wrinkle: thousands of Washingtonians have gotten vaccines through the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, and aren’t entered into the state system. State officials are working with the federal government to see if those people can opt-in to the lottery drawings, Inslee said.
Thursday’s push comes after Inslee has said the state will begin lifting economic restrictions intended to curb the spread of the virus by June 30.
That day would come sooner, the governor has said, if 70% of residents aged 16 and up have gotten at least their first shot. If that threshold is reached and confirmed, restrictions would lift immediately, Inslee said Thursday.
About 63% of state residents 16 years and older have now hit that threshold, according to DOH.
Republicans, who have long criticized Inslee’s use of emergency powers throughout the pandemic, have continued to press the governor to reopen more quickly.
“We are calling on Governor Inslee to fully reopen the state immediately,” said GOP legislative leaders Rep. J.T. Wilcox and Sen. John Braun in a joint statement earlier this week. “He had left the door open to a reopening before June 30, and we viewed June 15 as a more appropriate target.”
“Now, with vaccination rates continuing to increase, new CDC guidance and other states showing the way, we no longer see a need to wait two more weeks, and certainly not another month,” they added.
Other prizes announced Thursday include a pair of Alaska Airlines tickets to anywhere the airline flies.
Seeking to interest those who indulge in sports, there will be various numbers of tickets given out for games of Seattle’s Mariners, Sounders, Storm, Seahawks, Kraken, and Tacoma’s OL Reign.
Other gifts for the vaccinated will include various gizmos donated by technology companies, such as 300 Xbox consoles from Microsoft, and 40 Echo Dots from Amazon. Nintendo is pitching in a quantity of Switches, and Google will hand out 25 Google Nests.
State officials are also partnering with the Association of Washington Business to purchase $1 million in gift cards intended for local businesses, Inslee said. Those will be handed out at vaccine locations via local chambers of commerce.
Meanwhile, DOH will distribute another $500,000 in gift cards to hand out at mobile clinics.
“The gift cards will be for different kinds of retail gatherings,” said Inslee. “From groceries to fishing gear, to topsoil.”