Vaccinated Manitobans have not just hit the jackpot with a life-saving jab, they might be able to take home lottery cash.
The provincial government will offer nearly $2 million in cash and scholarships to encourage more Manitobans to get the shot this summer.
"You’re gambling with COVID if you’re not getting a vaccination," Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.
Two lottery draws will take place this summer; anyone vaccinated with at least one dose before Aug. 2, will be eligible for the first draw. Anyone vaccinated before Sept. 6 is expected to be eligible for the second draw. A process for people to opt out of the lottery is in the works.
"This lottery gives Manitobans a reason to move faster to roll up your sleeves, not once, but twice," Pallister said.
The province said the money will come from its COVID-19 Contingency Fund, and has no public target for how many more vaccinations it hopes the incentive will generate.
Last week, Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the vaccine rollout, had warned against cash payments to get people vaccinated. She said people could think the government is making up for the risk of side-effects.
She said Wednesday that a lotto prize seemed like more of a nudge because there's no certainty of winning, and it's not perceived as a bribe.
"What we want is to use every tool that we have, to encourage Manitobans to get vaccinated," Reimer said.
"We don’t want to see any more deaths; we don’t want to hear about anybody else in the hospital. If a lottery helps to create just that slight incentive that takes somebody over from not being vaccinated to being vaccinated, then we’re happy to provide that option."
Reimer said her vaccine team pored over data on behavioural science. A provincial spokeswoman provided polling on how Manitobans perceive vaccine incentives, but no academic studies.
The NDP called the lottery a "very gimmicky" distraction from the dozens of ICU patients being sent to other provinces.
"Job No. 1 should be fixing the ICU crisis, and fixing the health-care crisis, and yet we're just waiting for a plan," NDP Leader Wab Kinew told reporters.
He said public health experts instead suggest being more transparent with the public to boost vaccine uptake.
"They tell us if we want to persuade people to get a vaccine, you need to get them trusted information from trusted sources," Kinew said.
The Manitoba Liberals said they support the lottery project, but argued the province still needs a gradual reopening plan.
"For months we’ve been saying we need to reward people for doing the right thing and a vaccine incentive is a start," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont wrote.
The lottery approach might prove effective, said Robert Williams, a University of Lethbridge health professor who specializes in gambling and addiction.
"It's just a reasonable supposition that if people are over-estimating the risk of the negative side-effects, that they would be more likely to be lottery players in the first place. So this would be a good way of capitalizing on that error in thinking," he said.
"So it does seem a potentially very clever approach for that subgroup."
William said there's no empirical research on how a lottery affects vaccine uptake, but he said the chance at winning a large amount of money is much more likely to draw in people than a small payment would.
"From a behavioural perspective, lotteries make more sense," he said.
"There is a significant minority of the population who need these incentives."
Williams also said more convenient access might get more people to roll up their sleeves, such as offering free rides, visiting homes with shots or placing pop-up sites in store parking lots.
As of Wednesday, the earliest first dose appointments available in Winnipeg were for the second week of July.
Johanu Botha, operations and planning lead for the COVID-19 vaccine task force, said the province hopes to have enough supply to offer additional walk-in clinics within one to four weeks.
"It’s exciting to be able to want the first dose and then walk right to the clinic; we’re looking to make that option available down the line," Botha said. "But it’s also exciting to get your name in the queue."
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said announcing $5 million in lotto prizes boosted the state's vaccination rate by 45 per cent in mere weeks.
A Washington Post analysis suggests the Vax-a-Million lottery had stopped Ohio from following the national decline in vaccine demand.
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Pallister said part of the appeal of the lottery is that it doesn't leave out Manitobans who have been vaccinated. Some told provincial surveys it would be unfair for people not to get benefits provided to people who were slow to get their shots.
The premier said the province is working on other ways to convince people to get vaccinated, including those who don't just need a nudge but are opposed to doing so.
"We're reaching out as best we can and this is one way, in support of many others, to get the information so they're comfortable and confident in the decisions that they take, and that's going to continue to be the focus," the premier said.
"As long as COVID is here, we'll continue to have, to some degree at least, our freedoms limited."
— With files from Katie May and Danielle Da Silva
What's on offer
The province said the lotteries will award:
Three prizes of $100,000 in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (excluding Churchill);
A $100,000 prize in each of the remaining regional health authorities: Prairie Mountain Health, Southern Health–Santé Sud, Interlake–Eastern Regional Health Authority and Northern Regional Health Authority (including Churchill); and
10 draws for $25,000 scholarships for young people aged 12 to 17 across the province, for a total of $250,000.
The $100,000 prizes will be considered lottery winnings and won't be taxable.
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries president Manny Atwal said the tax details are still being worked out for the youth scholarships.
“There are still some technical details to work through, and some important steps for us tot take to ensure an appropriate, secure and legal process,” he said.