COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine was peppered with questions during his weekly pandemic press briefing on Thursday about the so-called “Vaximillionaire” initiative. That effort will pick five vaccinated Ohioans in a lotto-style drawing with each winner collecting $1 million in pandemic relief funds that the state received from the federal government.
DeWine doubled down on the campaign, firmly believing that the bold incentive will lead to an uptick in the state’s vaccination rate. In recent weeks, the number of new Ohioans getting the vaccine has taken a nosedive.
After a peak of over 100,000 new vaccinations in a single day back on March 31, the number of new vaccinations has fallen to just over 6,000 earlier this week. The state’s current vaccination level is around 42 percent.
“We have spent a lot of money fighting this virus. There are a lot of different ways to do it,” DeWine said. “I think about this every day. I think about what more can we do to slow the virus and get us back totally to normal, save lives, protect people. The answer now always comes back to vaccination, vaccination, vaccination. That is the key.”
The governor’s plan has been met with both criticism and praise from both sides of the political aisle. Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) blasted the governor’s proposal, saying the lotto winnings, which were provided to Ohio by the federal government for pandemic relief purposes, should be used elsewhere.
“As elected leaders, we’re obligated to take seriously our duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis,” Sykes said. “Ohioans deserve better than this.”
DeWine said the state has spent millions of dollars on other outreach efforts, including television and radio commercials, ads on social media and other vaccine awareness blitzes. However, DeWine said those efforts have not yielded the desired results in recent weeks and the vaccination rate has declined precipitously.
“I did not go into this and make this decision thinking that everyone was going to think it was a wonderful idea,” DeWine said. “I have an obligation, and that’s to do everything I can to save lives, everything I can do to keep Ohio moving forward. This is one tool that we had not used.”
On multiple occasions Thursday afternoon, DeWine doubled down on the program.
"The idea came from me. The buck stops with me. It’s my responsibility, my decision,” DeWine said. “I know there are people that think this is a terrible, terrible waste of money… what’s a waste at this point is when we now have the vaccine and when someone dies of COVID because they didn’t get the shot. That’s a waste.”
Other states, including Kentucky, West Virginia and New Jersey, as well has several individual cities, have offered small incentives for people to get vaccinated, ranging from a free beer to a savings bond.