California is giving away the country’s largest pot of vaccine prize money, $116.5 million, in an attempt to get millions more inoculated before the most populous U.S. state fully reopens next month. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday announced the prizes, which also include the nation's highest single vaccine prize: $1.5 million.
The state estimates about 12 million Californians 12 and older have not been vaccinated. About 63% of the 34 million eligible have gotten shots, though the pace has slowed markedly in recent weeks as infection rates have plummeted to record lows.
California's reopening is pegged for June 15, and on that day a drawing will be held to award 10 vaccinated people the top prize .
Another 30 people will win $50,000 each, with those drawings starting June 4. Anyone 12 and older who has received at least one shot will be eligible. And the next 2 million people who get vaccinated will get $50 gift cards.
New York is raffling 50 full scholarships to children 12 to 17 to public universities and colleges in the state, selecting 10 winners each of the next five Wednesdays.
That California is turning to cash prizes to encourage vaccinations marks a major turnaround from earlier this year, when Californians clamored for shots, with some driving or waiting in line for hours to get one.
“Some Californians weren’t ready to get their COVID-19 vaccine on Day One, and that’s OK. This program is designed to encourage those who need extra support to get vaccinated and help keep California safe,” Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, director of the state’s department of public health, said in a statement.
Newsom’s office said the program would be aimed at reaching people in communities hardest hit by the pandemic — mainly the poor, Blacks and Latinos — though it wasn’t immediately clear how the money would be tailored to fit that goal.
California uses a “vaccine equity metric” to track vaccination progress that splits zip codes into four quartiles from least to most advantaged. Nearly half of people in the least advantaged neighborhoods still haven’t been vaccinated, according to the state.
By contrast, less than a quarter of people in the most advantaged areas haven’t been vaccinated.
Among all Latinos, 57% are not yet vaccinated. That’s the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group. Forty% of white Californians are not vaccinated, according to state figures.