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A lottery-style giveaway for those who get vaccinated? Utah governor likes the idea

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — If you're a Utah resident and you got vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to get your vaccine sometime in the future, you might soon have a chance to get rich.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday he supports a lottery-style cash giveaway to further incentivize people to get vaccinated. Vaccine demand has diminished recently in Utah, as it has in many other states, the governor said.

"There's nothing that says we can't incentivize people to get vaccinated," Cox said at a news conference Thursday.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine this week announced his state will hold five weekly drawings of $1 million, open to anyone who has received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cox said he wants to do the exact same thing in Utah in hopes of convincing those who are on the fence about the vaccine to finally get their shots.

"This is something I'm very interested in," he said. "We really have to think outside the box."

He added that there is no amount of money that would be too much to spend in order to get an extra 5% to 10% more Utahns vaccinated, though he didn't mention a specific amount and said a proposal is only in the beginning stages.

If the state follows through on holding a giveaway, people who already received their vaccines would be eligible — not just those who get their shots moving forward, Cox added.

Such a giveaway would require legislative approval, the governor said. Legislators would have to allocate the funds, but state legal teams are working on a proposal and will meet with legislators soon, he added.

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A special session of the Utah Legislature is expected to be held sometime this month and a giveaway could be a topic of discussion.

Even before Ohio's announcement, Utah leaders talked to behavioral scientists, residents, governors in other states and health officials to brainstorm incentives that could convince more people to get vaccinated, Cox said.

Other states have provided creative incentives, such as New Jersey's "shot and a beer" program, where vaccinated residents can take their COVID-19 vaccination cards to participating breweries and have a drink on the house during the month of May. Fishing license giveaways in some states are another innovative incentive, Cox said.

Lotteries, like all gambling, are illegal in Utah, and the governor called normal lotteries a "tax on people who are bad at math." But Cox stressed that a giveaway in Utah wouldn't be a lottery because state residents aren't paying into the funds that would be given away.

It will take some creativity and innovative ideas to push Utah toward a vaccination rate of 70% to 90%, which is needed to achieve herd immunity, Cox said.

"I believe that this is one of those ideas," he said. "It's something that I support."

Convincing people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 isn't like convincing them to get a flu shot each year, Cox said. It's very different and very specific, he said.

Utahns won't ever be forced to get vaccinated — the Beehive State was one of the first to enact a law prohibiting the state from requiring vaccinations, Cox said. But a pandemic like this only happens about once a century, so some drastic actions might be needed to make sure people get their shots, he said.

"There is nothing more important than getting our vaccine numbers up," Cox said. "This is the miracle that we prayed for. This is what we hoped for, this is the thing. This is it. This is how we get out of this pandemic forever, this is the thing that gets us back to normal."

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