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Rewards haven’t provided big boost for Nevada COVID-19 vaccinations

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s offer of a chance to win a million-dollar prize hasn’t resulted in a noticeable uptick in COVID-19 vaccinations in Nevada, at least not so far.

Sisolak announced a state raffle on June 17 in which vaccinated residents could win a total of $5 million in prizes, including college tuition and a $1 million grand prize. The rewards were intended to boost the state’s declining numbers of new vaccinations.

Brian Labus, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostasticis at UNLV’s School of Public Health, said the offer didn’t immediately result in big gains.

“There wasn’t a giant spike in people vaccinated the next day,” he said when asked to review vaccination data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through Friday, the seven-day daily average of first doses administered also appeared to continue its downward trend.

A chance at big prizes “may help slow that trend,” said Labus, who has served as a member of the governor’s medical advisory team on COVID-19, “but it may not be visible as a single spike or something like that.”

He also cautioned that one week of data is insufficient to form a conclusion.

North Carolina State University Professor Julie Swann had a similar take.

“I do not see clear evidence yet that the demand increased June 17th or afterward,” Swann, department head of industrial and systems engineering, said in an email. “It is difficult to say that it didn’t, because it is possible the demand would have declined without the announcement of the lottery.

“There is also still time for demand to increase, and there could be an additional bump in demand after the first drawing,” said Swann, a former adviser to the CDC.

The first of eight weekly drawings in Nevada is set for July 8.

Chasing ‘cash at the end of the rainbow’

On Wednesday, Sisolak said it was too soon to assess the raffle’s impact, though he’d heard anecdotally that some people were getting a shot because of “cash at the end of the rainbow.”

And with every additional shot, “We’re doing more to protect our state and protect our residents,” the governor said.

As in other parts of the country, COVID-19 vaccinations have been declining in Nevada since peaking in the spring.

The seven-day daily average of first doses administered in the week following the governor’s announcement numbered nearly 3,100, less than previous weeks in June, CDC data indicates.

That number could increase if there were lags in reporting vaccinations. Vaccinators are allowed from 24 to 72 hours to record vaccinations in the Nevada WebIZ system that tracks vaccinations, said Shannon Litz, a representative of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

The week before the governor’s announcement, average daily first doses numbered about 4,800. The two previous weeks saw about 3,600 and 4,700 vaccinations, respectively.

Fifty-two percent of Nevada’s 12-and-older residents who are eligible for vaccine has gotten at least one dose.

“Vaccination numbers have remained steady and every shot administered is one more Nevadan protected from this virus,” Litz said of the raffle’s impact. “We are encouraged to see there is continued interest in vaccination and believe the governor’s announcement of Vax Nevada Days will keep the spotlight on the importance of getting vaccinated.

“We’re grateful to everyone who has decided to be vaccinated to protect the health of our communities and continue to encourage Nevadans to learn about the vaccines, get their questions answered and make a plan to be vaccinated when they are ready.”

Following the lead of Ohio, states across the country have begun to offer vaccination lotteries or raffles to bolster their vaccination rates. These efforts come at a time when the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which spreads more easily and may result in more serious illness, appears to be becoming the dominant strain in the U.S.

Ohio saw an immediate spike in vaccinations following the announcement of its lottery on May 13. The impact of lotteries in other states remains less clear.

No prize needed

Half a dozen people trickling into a Las Vegas vaccination site late Thursday afternoon said they had not heard of the state’s raffle.

Michelle McAteer, 54, said she got a shot without an incentive.

“There wasn’t any incentive outside of not dying,” she said with a chuckle.

“I wanted to get back to normal, and I wanted to not get sick and die because I already have asthma,” said McAteer, who was getting a shot at a vaccination clinic at Garside Junior High, on Torrey Pines Drive south of U.S. Highway 95.

Still, she was glad to hear that she would be automatically entered in the raffle.

“I’m always happy to win anything,” she said.

The Southern Nevada Health District’s Stephanie Ruiz said she was seeing many parents at the clinic who were getting their children vaccinated to protect them before they returned to the classroom. Only a few people mentioned they hoped to win a prize in the raffle.

After getting a shot at the Garside clinic, Luciana Arbila, 18, said she needed to get vaccinated before studying in Spain in the fall. Her cousin, Maria Lucia Pulido, also 18, said she got a shot because she wanted life to return to normal after missing out on graduation and prom, and after the death of her grandfather from COVID-19.

The cousins had not heard of the raffle. Nor, as it turns out, are they eligible to win a prize.

Only Nevada residents can win prizes in the raffle. The cousins, who live in Colombia, were in Las Vegas visiting another cousin, they said.

People getting vaccinated aren’t required to show identification and aren’t required to be residents, according to Southern Nevada Health District representative Jennifer Sizemore.

However, Nevada residency will be verified before raffle winners are announced, state officials said.

The Colombian cousins said their age group was not yet eligible for vaccination in their home country, so they opted to get their shots here. Few countries have the luxury of plentiful vaccine — or a need to offer enticements.

Pulido said she was OK with not having a chance at a prize.

“Our main objective wasn’t to win,” she said. “We’re not that disappointed.”

Vaccination information can be found at nvcovidfighter.org.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Michael Scott Davidson contributed to this report.

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