State vaccination numbers from February to early July suggest New Mexico’s lottery program for residents inoculated against COVID-19 — an initiative aimed to boost interest in the vaccine — has produced a modest impact, if any.
Organizations and studies across the nation have reached different conclusions about the value of sweepstakes incentives when it comes to increasing coronavirus vaccinations. Doctors in New Mexico said Monday it will take various strategies to get through to the many people who still haven’t been vaccinated.
“It gets harder as time goes on,” said Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer of Albuquerque-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services.
“The lottery is one of those pieces that helped,” but it will also take encouragement from family members, trusted community representatives, physicians and nurses, mobile vaccination clinics, and other strategies, Mitchell said.
The state launched the Vax 2 the Max lottery sweepstakes June 1, investing $10 million in federal coronavirus relief.
Eight days later, the New Mexico Department of Health announced the seven-day average for new vaccination sign-ups rose to 1,437 from 1,352 the previous week.
But the daily average of vaccinations administered in the state in the first seven days of each month from February to July show an overall drop after the sweepstakes were announced. While the daily average in early June was 5,891, the number in July had fallen to 2,096.
That continued a trend of average daily inoculation numbers declining in the state since May, following a peak of 18,880 from April 1-7. That’s when the state began expanding eligibility to more groups of residents and easing the process of scheduling inoculations.
A study by Boston University School of Medicine on Ohio’s vaccine lottery, published early this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said researchers “did not find evidence that a lottery-based incentive in Ohio was associated with increased rates of adult COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Instead, the researchers wrote, the Ohio lottery started as the federal government authorized the vaccine for adolescents in May. U.S. vaccination rates rose, exceeding those in Ohio, the report said, perhaps because eligibility for adolescents also led to an increase in adult vaccinations.
Like Mitchell, Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, a public health professor at New Mexico State University, said various strategies are needed to increase vaccination numbers.
Vaccination hesitation can involve political orientation, distrust of science and misunderstanding of the disease’s potential severity, Khubchandani wrote in an email. New Mexico “is thankfully doing a lot and trying a lot of avenues,” he wrote.
Dr. Wendy Johnson, chief medical officer of La Familia Medical Center in Santa Fe, said fighting back against misinformation about the vaccine is vital. “The only thing that can combat that, I think, is responsible journalism and good information,” Johnson said.
She said she welcomes all strategies to get people vaccinated. “I think it’s worth trying everything at this point.”
While the lottery might not have led to a significant change in vaccination numbers, David Morgan, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health, said there are signs of high enthusiasm for the contest. On June 2, the number of vaccinated people who had opted into the sweepstakes was 75,138. By July 5, that had grown to 546,790, he said.
Currently, 72 percent of New Mexicans 18 and older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 64 percent are fully vaccinated.
The Kaiser Family Foundation said in its June survey some Americans would be more likely to get vaccinated if the federal government gave full approval to the vaccines instead of emergency use authorization.
The foundation said of other incentives and interventions, a million-dollar lottery could motivate about a quarter of the unvaccinated to get a shot, while mobile vaccine clinics could motivate about 1 in 6.
Through New Mexico’s Vax 2 the Max Sweepstakes, 12 New Mexico residents have won $250,000 apiece so far. The state selects one winner from each of four regions in weekly drawings. Two more drawings for $250,000 prizes will be held in July. A $5 million grand prize winner will be selected in early August.
Taylor Brooke, a teacher at Gadsden High School south of Las Cruces, didn’t need the sweepstakes to propel her to vaccination. Brooke said she was vaccinated early this year.
But because the New Mexico sweepstakes include those who have previously been vaccinated, Brooke, 23, became one of the $250,000 winners in June.
“I’m still in shock. I know it’s been a while since then,” she said Monday.
Her message about coronavirus vaccinations: “You’re saving yourself. You’re saving others that you love. You’re being selfless getting vaccinated.”