Ohio lawmaker calls Vax-a-Million wasteful, drafting bill to halt lottery

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An area lawmaker wants to end the Vax-a-Million program, calling it wasteful despite a boost in the number of Ohioans who’ve gotten at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine since Gov. Mike DeWine announced the lottery.

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State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, plans to introduce legislation this week to stop the lottery, and she said the bill has bipartisan support.

“I wanted to move forward on (the legislation) and see how we could stop the vaccine lottery because it is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and that’s in our purview to see how we can fix that,” Powell said.

Rep. Jena Powell
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Rep. Jena Powell

DeWine respectfully disagrees with Powell, he said, saying she’s entitled to her opinion.

“But I think the facts show that once we put this in place, there’s been a lot more excitement about vaccines and we’ve seen vaccines go up,” DeWine said. “That will save lives. That will get us back moving forward at a faster rate. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Mike DeWine (born 1947), 70th governor of Ohio. SUBMITTED
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Mike DeWine (born 1947), 70th governor of Ohio. SUBMITTED

Credit: SUBMITTED

Credit: SUBMITTED

The Vax-a-Million lottery was launched nearly a week ago for adult Ohioans who have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccinations. There will be a $1 million drawing once a week for five weeks, with the winners announced on Wednesdays through June 23..

In addition, Ohioans ages 12-17 who have received at least one dose can enter to win one of five four-year, full-ride scholarships, including room and board, tuition and books, to any Ohio state college or university.

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More than 2.7 million people have registered for the $1 million prize, and 104,386 have signed up for the college scholarship, DeWine said Monday.

Since announcing the campaign, the state has seen a 94% increase in vaccination rates for ages 16 and 17, DeWine said. It’s the largest increase for any age group. Even so, the money should go to a more worthy cause while ensuring that anyone who wants the vaccine gets it, Powell said.

“The vaccine lottery, many people are just seeing it as a gimmick from the executive branch, and we do not support that,” she said. “In the times where there’s a lot of people hurting in many ways, we feel that this money could be used in a much wiser way.”

ExploreVax-A-Million: Registration deadline for first drawing due Sunday

Her bill will propose that the money go toward a small business relief fund or child mental health programs. It will also include an emergency clause to immediately go into effect, should it pass, as opposed to the normal three month waiting period that’s required.

Powell is not alone in condemning the vaccine lottery program. Lawmakers from both political parties have called it wasteful.

“As elected leaders, we’re obligated to take seriously our duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, said in a recent statement, according to the Ohio Capital Journal. “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis. Ohioans deserve better than this. I do hope people continue to get the vaccine and help our state reach herd immunity so our economy and way of life can thrive again.”

There’s no better way to spend $5 million than to encourage more people to get vaccinated so the state can open fully and help businesses regain their customers, said Dan Tierney, DeWine’s spokesman. Purchasing $5 million worth of ads may have been less gimmicky, but the earned media the programs have gotten in the first week alone is worth about $15 million, he said.

“There’s nothing that we can do better to make sure that we give consumers confidence for people to patronize small businesses, or to get school back to normal next academic year or get as many people vaccinated as possible,” he said.

Ohio continues to move closer to a key coronavirus metric that was previously linked to the state’s mask mandate and other public health orders. The state is averaging 89.8 cases per 100,000 people from May 10-23, DeWine said Monday. Last week, Ohio reported 106.9 cases per 100,000.

Previously, Ohio’s public health orders were set to be lifted once the state reported less than 50 cases per 100,000 people for two consecutive weeks.

However, during a statewide address earlier this month DeWine announced that all pandemic-related health orders would end on June 2.

On Monday, the state reported 566 daily cases, the fewest recorded in three weeks, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

To sign up for the Vax-a-Million drawing, visit https://ohiovaxamillion.com/index.html and select “Adult Registration” for the $1 million or “12-17 Year Old Registration” for the college scholarship.

Participants can also call the Ohio Department of Health at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. to register.

Staff Writer Kristen Spicker contributed to this report.