The state of New Mexico is not above a bit of bribery to get people to sign up for their coronavirus shots.
New Mexico on Tuesday joined some other states, businesses and organizations offering cash and prizes to those who get vaccinated. The states include Ohio and Oregon, and the businesses rewarding employees for getting shots include Dollar General and Trader Joe’s.
A spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham suggested the word “bribery” was extreme. A bribe entices a person to do something against their interests, he said.
“Getting your shot is definitely in your interest,” the spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, said. “It’s in everybody’s interest.”
The grand prize of $5 million in New Mexico is the largest single prize offered in states’ coronavirus vaccination lottery incentives, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
State Rep. Jim Townsend, a Republican from Artesia, didn’t call it a bribe. But he called it “horribly wasteful” to spend tax money this way. “Everything around this governor has to do with money,” Townsend said “And she’s either giving it away or she’s taxing the people who are working.”
Townsend, 66, said he has received his vaccinations. “We have to be responsible for our decisions and our actions,” he said. “We’re training people not to do [the right thing] until after they’re paid to do it.”
The source of the cash is American Rescue Plan stimulus money, federal payouts to states to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its effects. The Governor’s Office said the U.S. Treasury Department last week confirmed states may use stimulus funding for lotteries, cash payments and other incentive programs to boost vaccination rates.
Stelnicki said he didn’t find Townsend’s criticisms enlightening. “I could not care less what Rep. Townsend thinks about anything having to do with COVID-19 and the state’s efforts to combat it,” Stelnicki wrote in an email.
The state offered a total of $10 million, plus in-state travel packages, hunting and fishing licenses, passes to state parks and museums, and other items.
Lujan Grisham, the state Department of Health and the New Mexico Lottery announced the “Vax 2 the Max Sweepstakes,” to be conducted this summer.
Adult residents of New Mexico — those over 18 — who receive or already have received their COVID-19 vaccinations must register to participate in the cash sweepstakes and verify their vaccination information at vax2themaxnm.org.
Winners will have to produce their official coronavirus vaccination card to claim a prize.
Lujan Grisham said in a news release on the lottery program the pandemic has forced people to sacrifice. “Now anyone who has stepped up to get their shots will have a chance to win some excellent prizes,” she said.
More than 55 percent of eligible New Mexico residents have completed their vaccination series, according to the state Department of Health.
The state hopes to reach 60 percent this month.
Those who have signed on to participate in the sweepstakes will be part of five weekly drawings beginning in the middle of June. The drawings will pick one $250,000 winner from each of the state’s four public health regions, for a total of $1 million in cash each week.
Then a grand prize of $5 million will go to one person drawn from the pool of participants in the sweepstakes. The New Mexico Lottery will handle the drawings.
New Mexico residents receiving their vaccinations through medical providers on the state vaccinenm.org registration system will be eligible to win some prizes beginning next week.
Among those, 18 in-state travel plans ranging in value from $600 to $1,100 will be chosen at random. Other prizes include fishing and hunting licenses, and day passes for the New Mexico State Parks, state museums and cultural sites.
The New Mexico Lottery also will bring 10 “prize wheels” to some medical providers who have partnered with the state through its vaccine registration system. State residents receiving vaccinations at those sites will be eligible for a chance to win assorted prizes such as New Mexico Lottery tickets.
All participants will have a crack at the final $5 million drawing.
In order to be entered into a drawing, individuals must opt in to the sweepstakes on the Vax 2 the Max website by 6 the evening before the drawing.
Stelnicki said: “We’re just trying to keep everybody safe and if a few New Mexicans can get rich in the process, well, I wouldn’t argue.”