State officials drew the first winner of the Shot of a Lifetime program on Tuesday, kicking off a lottery aimed at incentivizing COVID-19 vaccinations through lofty cash prizes, tuition money and other goodies.
And while 19th District Rep. Jim Walsh, a staunch conservative, was quick to compare the lottery campaign to “The Hunger Games” — a young adult trilogy in which a totalitarian government forces adolescents to fight to the death — other lawmakers and officials have since offered markedly less critical reactions.
Walsh’s “sensational rhetoric,” said Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee, “does not match reality.”
“Would the legislator say this about states with Republican governors that have offered these same incentives, like Ohio has done to great national praise?” Faulk wrote in an email, adding that the lottery will “undoubtedly” increase vaccine confidence and vaccination rates.
Several other states have launched their own lottery programs, including Ohio, where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s “Vax-a-Million” campaign drew praise from a White House COVID-19 adviser. DeWine also faced some criticism from both sides of the aisle, with skeptics questioning whether lavish giveaways are an appropriate use of federal aid money.
But Ohio’s program also showed signs of success when state officials pointed to a 28% bump in vaccination rates after the campaign launched.
In contrast with Walsh, other Republican lawmakers have offered softer takes on the lottery.
House Republican leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, told The Chronicle that of all Inslee’s decisions he and Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, have critiqued throughout the pandemic, “this is not the worst.”
Republican Caucus Chair Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said she understands “the lure of prizes,” but questioned “how much return can taxpayers expect from a giveaway that will last another two weeks past the (June 30) reopening date?”
Wilcox did point to ongoing concerns that individuals vaccinated through the Department of Defense’s Veterans Affairs (VA) won’t be included in the lottery — something state Department of Health (DOH) officials said this week they are still working on addressing.
According to Health Secretary Umair Shah, individuals who received a vaccine through the VA can also ask a non-VA primary care provider to add their records to the state’s database in order to be eligible for lottery drawings.
“Again, the executive branch has done a lot of crazy things that I think have been very harmful — far more problematic than this,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox also said he doesn’t blame Washingtonians for having data privacy concerns — a topic Walsh brought up in his own critique of the Shot of a Lifetime.
This week, state health officials attempted to quell that fear, noting that private health data is not being shared with Washington’s Lottery. Instead, DOH is assigning each person in the state’s immunization database a number, which is correlated with Washington’s Lottery random number generator.
Additionally, potential winners must first consent to state health officials sharing their name and contact information with the state lottery agency. The state’s opt-out immunization database has existed since 1994, and is similar to other states’ databases. The state’s WA.myir.net portal has been operational since 2013, and used by parents in camp, child care and school-related situations.
“The goal here is to get people vaccinated,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane. “The sooner that happens, the better it is for schools, for small businesses and most importantly for the safety of vulnerable people most at risk. I am in favor of doing everything we reasonably can to help encourage people to make the good public health decision to get vaccinated.”
The Chronicle’s recent reporting in downtown Chehalis this week also elicited less-than-passionate reactions to the Shot of a Lifetime.
One woman who identified herself only as Ayla said she was indifferent toward the lottery, which she heard about in passing. The prizes, she said, would not be enough to incentivize her to get her second shot.
Ayla got her first dose after her work offered cash incentives. But a sore and itchy arm convinced her to forgo the second shot. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “COVID arm” — a red, itchey, swollen or painful rash at the injection site — can be alleviated with antihistamines, and individuals should still get their second dose.
Two other pedestrians said they were unfamiliar with the lottery, while one said the idea was “kind of cool.”
Individuals looking to verify their eligibility for the Shot of a Lifetime can call the state’s hotline, 833-VAX-HELP.