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First ‘Vax Nevada Days’ raffle brings smiles to winners

Updated July 8, 2021 - 11:48 pm

A North Las Vegas kindergarten teacher who got inoculated against COVID-19 to return to the classroom and a Las Vegas high school sophomore who dreams of becoming a surgeon were the big winners Thursday evening in the first drawing of the “Vax Nevada Days” raffle aimed at boosting vaccination rates.

Elizabeth Allder, a teacher at Cahlan Elementary School, learned she’d won a $250,000 cash prize during a news conference where Gov. Steve Sisolak invited some of the night’s biggest winners onstage.

Before speaking with a reporter after the event at the College of Southern Nevada’s North Las Vegas campus, Allder said she needed to get on the phone with her husband to tell him the news. After the call, she said, “I’m in shock.” And her husband? “He’s crying.”

She may use some of the money, she said, to finally take a honeymoon with her husband of seven years.

Kiana Butler, 15, won the night’s largest tuition prize of $50,000 for post-secondary education.

After Sisolak announced she was a winner, the Las Vegas High School sophomore flexed her bicep to show off the red bandage she had received after getting her second dose of vaccine.

“I want to be a surgeon. That’s my sky-high goal,” said Kiana, who hopes to attend Louisiana State University.

She plans to be the second person in her family to attend college but has been “kind of worried” about the high cost.

“It’s a tricky subject for a lot of families,” said the beaming teenager, who attended the event with her dad and 8-year-old brother. “I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

Allder and Kiana were among a handful of winners invited to the news conference. They were told in advance they had won something, but not which prize. Before the announcement, winners were required to document that they resided in Nevada to prove their eligibility.

Other winners for this week’s drawings preferred not to have their names announced or are still being contacted to claim their prize, according to a news release.

Under the raffle, $5 million in cash and prizes will be handed out to nearly 2,000 Nevada residents who have gotten at least one dose of vaccine. Winners will be announced each Thursday through Aug. 26, when the winner of the $1 million grand prize will be announced.

State officials hope the contest will stimulate interest in vaccination at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are, once again, on the rise.

About 54 percent of the population eligible for a shot — those 12 and older — has gotten at least one dose. Less than half the eligible population — 46 percent — is fully vaccinated.

Interest in getting a shot has declined; from a high of 25,000 vaccinations a day in mid-April, only about 5,000 shots now are being given daily.

Vaccinated Nevada residents are automatically included in the raffle, state officials have said. Although most residents won’t win a prize, “Every person is a winner if they get vaccinated,” Sisolak said.

Before the winners were announced, a male protester interrupted the news conference with a bullhorn, shouting that the vaccine lottery is “a sham.” From the back, he approached the stage where Sisolak was standing but was quickly escorted outside by security.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter. Review-Journal digital content producer Damon Seiters contributed to this report.

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