Scholarship shot: 4 states push teens to get vaccines

Students ages 12-17 who get vaccinated are eligible in some states to win a huge prize: a fully-paid college education. New York is giving away 50 scholarships.

Win Apple AirPods, free passes to state parks, four-day vacations or even a $1 million lottery. Those are just some of the incentives being offered in a quest to have individuals get COVID-19 vaccines.

There is also this one being touted in at least three states to young students: the opportunity to pay for postsecondary education.

In fact, anyone ages 12 or older in Oregon who receives doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be entered into a drawing to win one of five $100,000 college scholarships, the Oregon Treasury and the Oregon College Savings Plan said.

“This is a win-win: get vaccinated now to protect yourself and others, and get the chance to fund your future through a scholarship that can be used for higher education and job training,” Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read said.

The five lucky recipients will have those winnings effectively placed into Oregon College Savings Plans, where they will be deemed beneficiaries of the account held by the state treasury. The Oregon Treasury notes that those winnings will be honored at most institutions, including those in other states and abroad – from public and private universities to community colleges and even trade schools, culinary schools and apprenticeships.

The campaign, called “Take Your Shot”, aims to get more Oregonians vaccinated (currently 53% of the state’s individuals have received first doses, according to Our World in Data and The New York Times, while 43% have completed their shots). The incentive is also a way of giving back to young people as they begin future pathways. The state is using more than $1.8 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money to fund the initiative.

“Managing these scholarships fits perfectly with the mission of the Oregon College Savings Plan,” said Michael Parker, Executive Director for the Oregon Treasury Savings Network. “We are committed to making higher education more accessible and affordable to communities statewide by offering year-round incentives to make it easier for Oregonians with dreams for the future to save and to save early.”

Winners will be determined on June 28 but not publicly announced to protect their identities.

Other states get involved

The most popular and most prominent incentive-based initiative is happening in Ohio, where nearly three million people have registered for the “Vax-a-Million” COVID-19 program. That includes a 94% increase among 16-17-year-olds and a more than 45% increase in 18-19-year-olds, according to the Associated Press, because … there is not only a chance to win $1 million but also five opportunities to win a four-year, full-ride college scholarship to any Ohio college or university.

The first of those winners in the five-week contest was named on Thursday, with 14-year-old high school freshman Joseph Costello earning a full scholarship. He said his early choices would be to attend The Ohio State University or Miami-Ohio. More than 100,000 students ages 12-17 are eligible. Those who enter must be permanent Ohio residents to win. As with contests in other states, children who enter will need parent or guardian verification.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’ ”  Gov. Mike DeWine said when the incentive announcement was released. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — the real waste is a life that is lost now to COVID-19.”

Despite the success of the program, less than 40% of Ohio’s population is fully vaccinated and only 45% have received first doses.

The state of New York is on board too, but going to extremes to get younger student populations vaccination. It is now having a sweepstakes to give away 50 full-ride scholarships to any public college or university. The catch: students must already be vaccinated or get doses within the next six weeks.

In Delaware, officials also are giving away one full scholarship to a public state university to those 12-17 who get vaccinated. If students don’t win the top prize in the DE Wins! sweepstakes, they still can win tickets to amusement parks and sporting events. The goal, as in other states, is to get as many individuals vaccinated as possible. Like Oregon, 53% of the state has received one dose but only 41% are fully vaccinated.

“Incentive programs are one of three key levers that are becoming widely recognized for increasing vaccine rates,” Dr. Karyl Rattay, Director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said in a statement. “Along with education to tackle misinformation, and increasing access to vaccines by reducing logistical barriers such as offering free transportation and walk-in hours, incentive programs are another tool that can drive vaccine uptake among different audiences, particularly younger ones, by offering items that are seen as valuable and motivate them to act.”

According to reports released last week, more than 600,000 children ages 12-17 have gotten first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the only one of three available for use in that age group. On Tuesday, Moderna said its vaccine was safe and effective for adolescents and will submit those data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June, hoping to get emergency use authorization.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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