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Enough with the luring of a small number to get vaccines

Instead of using the state’s COVID-19 relief funds to educate the public about ways to stay safe from COVID-19 or to provide relief from COVID-19, our governor once again is insisting on using the funds to benefit a minimal number of Ohioans in hopes of luring them into getting vaccinated.

Gov. Mike DeWine last week doubled down on his new “Vax-2-School” scholarship giveaway, now saying he’ll offer $2 million in awards, up from $1 million he originally pledged.

Really?

We are disappointed in what we expect will be yet another failed attempt at enticing COVID-19 vaccination. Let’s not forget the state’s last attempt to use a lottery-like vaccine incentive produced less-than-stellar results.

Now, under the newest plan, young people age 12 to 25 can start signing online through ohiovax2school.com or by phone between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The plan, announced Sept. 23, offered five $100,000 scholarships and 50 $10,000 scholarships awarded over a total of five weeks.

But then Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, announced late last week there now will be 100 additional $10,000 scholarships.

Also, if the Food and Drug Administration makes the Pfizer vaccine eligible to those between the ages of 5 and 11, they will be eligible for the Ohio scholarships, Vanderhoff said.

The awards could be used for Ohio colleges and universities, career or technical education, as well as job training.

Apparently it cannot be used to repay already-incurred student loans or other student debt.

About 46 percent of Ohioans aged 12 to 25 statewide have received the initial dose of the vaccine, DeWine said, calling vaccinations the state’s ticket out of the pandemic.

The state has seen more than 42,000 cases of COVID-19 among kids ages 5 to 17 since mid-August, the governor said.

“Keeping our children in school in person is a top priority for the state,” he said. “It is a top priority for parents. It is a top priority for our schools, our teachers, our administrators.”

While we agree with that, we don’t agree with using tax dollars for a lottery.

The state’s previous incentive plan, called “Vax-a-Million” lottery held earlier this year, gave away $1 million each week for five weeks to five lucky people picked randomly from among vaccinated people who registered for the drawing. Vaccinated students age 17 or under also had the chance at a full-ride college scholarship at a state university back then.

Indeed, that May 12 announcement of the incentive program had the desired effect in its first week, leading to a 43 percent bump in state vaccination numbers over the previous week.

But as we predicted in this space, the increased vaccination rate was not sustained. After that week, the numbers of vaccinations dropped off again.

Let’s face it. Americans care deeply about this issue, and it’s unlikely many will be swayed — even with a chance at cash or a free ride to school. Some Americans believe strongly in the need for the vaccine and were lining up the minute it was available. Others, for various reasons, were just as strongly opposed to the idea of taking the shot.

Taxpayer dollars should not be used in a “lottery” of any kind. These funds were intended for COVID-19 relief, not a quick win.

We urge state leaders to reconsider the plan. They should opt instead to invest these funds on education, information about the risks of COVID-19 and developing new variants, along with other methods of COVID-19 relief.

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