EXPLAINER: How Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery will work

AP General

FILE – In this Thursday, April 8, 2021, file photo, Kent State University student Regan Raeth, of Hudson, Ohio, looks at her vaccination bandage as she waits for 15 minutes after her shot in Kent, Ohio. On Wednesday, May 12, 2021, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the end of the state’s mask mandate as new COVID-19 cases decrease and more Ohioans get vaccinated. DeWine said the mask mandate will end June 2 except for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. (AP Photo/Phil Long, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With the first drawing for Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery system scheduled for May 26, state officials announced a change to the process Monday that will require participants to opt-in.

The lottery system unveiled by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine last week will begin next Wednesday and continue for five weeks, offering residents a $1 million prize or a full-ride scholarship to a four-year university in the state.

Ohio had initially planned to use state voter registration in addition to an opt-in program to automatically enroll every resident into the drawing but changed it Monday to opt-in only, state Health Director Stephanie McCloud said during a briefing.

The change, McCloud said, is an effort to streamline verification and eligibility requirements for lottery participants and allow Ohio residents who don’t want to participate to opt out. A look at how Vax-a-Million will work:

HOW CAN YOU ENTER YOUR NAME INTO THE DRAWING?

Beginning Tuesday, May 18 at 8 a.m. ET, Ohio residents can enter into the lottery system by filling out a questionnaire at Ohiovaxamillion.com or by calling the Ohio Department of Health hotline at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE $1 MILLION PRIZE?

Permanent Ohio residents who are 18 years and older and have received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine by the Sunday before the weekly Wednesday drawing are eligible to enter the lottery. The state determines permanent residency using the same requirements that it uses for issuing an Ohio driver’s license or eligibility to vote.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE FULL-RIDE SCHOLARSHIP?

Permanent Ohio residents who are between 12 and 17 years of age and have received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine by the Sunday before the weekly Wednesday drawing are eligible to enter the lottery.

The winner can put the scholarship, which includes room and board, tuition, and books, to any Ohio state college or university of their choice. Children can enter on their own but parents or guardians would have to verify their eligibility.

ARE YOU ELIGIBLE IF YOU ARE AN OHIO RESIDENT BUT RECEIVED THE VACCINE IN ANOTHER STATE?

Yes. If you are an Ohio permanent resident, regardless of where you got your vaccine, you will be eligible for the drawing.

“We don’t care where you got your vaccine,” McCloud said. “As long as we can verify it through some combination of your vaccination card or the vaccine provider, you are more than eligible.”

HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU ENTER YOUR NAME?

Once. The state’s lottery agency will automatically delete any duplicate entries. But, once you enter your name and finish the questionnaire either online or by phone, you will be in the drawing for all five weeks.

WHEN WILL THE DRAWINGS BEGIN AND WEEKLY WINNERS BE ANNOUNCED?

Beginning Monday, May 24, the state lottery agency will conduct the drawings for the $1 million prize and full-ride scholarships until Monday, June 21. The winners will be announced on Wednesdays, beginning May 26, and concluding on June 23. The time between the drawings and announcements will be spent verifying winners’ eligibility.

If a winner is found not to have been vaccinated, then officials will work down a list of entrants until a qualified one is found, said Pat McDonald, director for the Ohio Lottery.

HOW WILL THE PRIZE BE PAID?

The prize will be paid in a one-time, lump sum shortly after the winner is announced. The winner will be responsible for any taxes

IS THE USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS FOR THE LOTTERY LEGAL?

The use of federal funds for the vaccine lottery system is legal under the Department of Treasury requirements for the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was passed by Congress last year in order to help states cope with the coronavirus pandemic quickly, McCloud said.

“We have to use this money to bring awareness, to help encourage and to facilitate uptake of the vaccine,” the health director said. “We knew we were going to find innovative ways to bring vaccine education and vaccine uptake to Ohioans.”

HOW WILL THE STATE MEASURE SUCCESS FROM THIS INCENTIVE?

According to McCloud, the state already sees the vaccine lottery system as a success, even before the first drawing has taken place. The immediate and intense response following the announcement of the lottery last week is seen by state officials as worth the creative bid to overcome the vaccine hesitancy that remains a stubborn problem across Ohio.

In the days following the lottery’s unveiling, McCloud said the rate of vaccinations among the 30-to-54 age range increased by 6% after weeks of decline.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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