SOUTHEASTERN N.C. –– Even with the chance of $1 million at stake, the number of people who are opting to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in New Hanover and neighboring counties is rising slowly — so far, by only a few hundred each week.
In the 11 days after Gov. Roy Cooper first announced all vaccinated adults in North Carolina would have the chance to become a millionaire, New Hanover County Public Health administered just 755 vaccines. A county spokesperson said that number is consistent with past months, signaling little impact from the governor’s incentive.
New Hanover County reached its midway point of vaccinating 50% of residents a month ago. To achieve herd immunity, the county needs to raise that rate to at least 70%. Yet, in the past months, the number of shots given out has remained stagnant, similar to the rest of the state.
In an effort to convince more residents to roll up their sleeves, Gov. Cooper announced the federally funded lottery program June 10. In addition to the four cash prizes, there are four $125,000 college scholarships for vaccinated youth, ages 12 to 17. People are automatically entered into the drawing and those who got their first dose after the announcement were entered twice.
The first winner was pulled Wednesday morning at the North Carolina Education Lottery building in Raleigh; three more drawings are slated to occur every other week before Aug. 4.
The lucky recipient of the first grand prize should hear from a state representative Wednesday, either by phone or email. The state is allowing the winner 48 hours to respond and with their permission, will reveal their name within several days, according to a state Department of Health and Human Services press release.
People should check with the Covid-19 Vaccine Portal to ensure their contact information was logged and is up to date. Those who can’t be reached won’t be eligible to accept the prize.
Across North Carolina, approximately 2.5 million people are unvaccinated. The incentive isn’t convincing people to turn out to clinics. Innoculations declined approximately 23% statewide since June 10, according to WRAL. The governor has acknowledged the lottery is not producing the desired outcome.
The program attempted to interest newly vaccinated individuals by doubling their entries and increasing their odds of winning.
In Ohio, a vaccine lottery conducted over the last two months worked for the state’s rural counties. Gov. Cooper said he was implementing his lottery incentive based on the success of Ohio’s “Vax-a-Million” campaign. Launched May 12, the state’s program boosted vaccinations 45% before the first winner was even announced, according to the governor. The biggest jump was in 16- and 17-year-olds.
Brunswick County has only had 821 residents vaccinated with at least one dose between the weeks of June 7 and June 14, according to the NCDHHS dashboard. County spokesperson Meagan Kascsak said the public health department has yet to notice any “major changes” in vaccination trends. Any increased traffic to clinics, she said, likely can be attributed to parents taking their children to get vaccinated now that school is out for summer. The Pfizer vaccine only opened to kids ages 12 and up a month ago.
Kascsak noted Brunswick County has one of the highest vaccination rates –– 50% –– in the state. It also has a high population of older people, who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus and therefore eager to protect themselves.
“Many residents were already eligible and entered once the program was announced,” she said.
In Pender County, 715 people received their initial dose in clinics across the county between June 10 and June 22. Health and Human Services Director Carolyn Moser said she’s unsure if the lottery motivated them.
“It may be a bit early to tell. I am interested to see if there is an increase once the first lottery winners are identified,” Moser said. “It seems that there remains a lot of vaccine hesitancy and the majority of those wanting the vaccine have received it.”
Besides the lottery, there’s another reason public health officials are urging people to get vaccinated. After originating in India, the delta variant of Covid-19 has spread to the U.S. and North Carolina. The variant disseminates quickly and is more severe, according to NCDHHS.
New Hanover County is still pushing initiatives to increase vaccinations. Last week it hosted its “Vax and Snax” event. In county emails, a top health official acknowledged turnout wasn’t as good as hoped. Only 68 people were vaccinated, but the event attracted mainly younger people, which was the goal. The county is holding another outreach event June 27 at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, awarding people for receiving vaccines with complimentary admission.
Also, the county is planning a “barbershop”-themed event at Maides Park in early July.
“The seriousness of this virus cannot be forgotten,” David Howard, New Hanover County’s public health director, said in a press release last week. “It’s still out there, and it’s so important to be protected against it. That means getting vaccinated; or if you choose not to be vaccinated, you need to continue wearing a mask and practicing those same safety measures we all became accustomed to over the past year.”
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