First four winners of $50,000 vaccine prizes named -- most hail from Detroit area

Ben Wilson
The Detroit News

The first four winners of $50,000 each were named Wednesday in the MI Shot To Win Sweepstakes that is aimed at increasing vaccinations against the coronavirus and its variants.

Three of the four winners, who were randomly selected for getting vaccinated from July 1 to July 4, were from Metro Detroit. The last winner from the Fourth of July was from west Michigan.

The sweepstakes ceremony was introduced by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but University of Michigan softball head coach Carol Hutchins and Protect Michigan Commission Director Kerry Ebersole Singh announced the victors.

Amber Berger, a registered nurse from New Baltimore, was the first winner of the $50,000 daily vaccination lottery. Berger said in a taped message that she considered it important to get vaccinated and wasn't aware she had been entered before winning.

The second was Adrienne Peterson of Southfield, who is going to use the money to purchase a new home, Singh said. 

Amber Berger, a registered nurse from New Baltimore, said she didn't even know she had been entered into the daily $50,000 cash sweepstakes. She got vaccinated on July 1.

Chris Ackerman of Detroit was the third winner. Ackerman said in a taped message that he got his vaccination on July 3 because he wanted to "keep my family safe."

Larita Lee of Wyoming, a retired auto worker, was the fourth winner. She cited the lottery as her main motivation for getting the shot and will use the winnings toward a down payment for a new house, Singh said. 

"I want to give a huge, huge thanks to every Michigander who stepped up to get their vaccine," Whitmer said. 

The governor cited the Delta variant of COVID-19 as a reason to get vaccinated, saying it must be taken "very seriously." The Delta variant is considered more contagious and possibly more lethal than other versions of the coronavirus.

"If you have your shots, you're confident and you can relax, knowing you're protected against this variant," Whitmer said.  

The effort, which is a collaboration of Meijer, Michigan Association of United Ways, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and other groups, is meant to encourage more Michiganians to get vaccinated and achieve Whitmer's goal of having 70% of the adult population protected. Ohio and other states launched similar efforts in May.

Michigan's vaccination rate on Wednesday was 62.4% of adults 16 years and older with at least one dose of the vaccine. When it was announced on July 1, nearly 62% had received one dose.

July 3rd winner Christopher Ackerman of Detroit said he got vaccinated against COVID-19 to keep his family safe. He won $50,000 in cash in the MI Shot to Win sweepstakes drawing.

Ebersole Singh said she's hopeful the new sweepstakes will get the percentage to 70% by Labor Day. 

Through Wednesday morning, more than 1.72 million people had applied for prizes since the program was set up on July 1.

The sweepstakes also is encouraging college-aged residents to get the shot or shots by offering nine four-year college scholarships worth about $55,000 each. Almost 78,000 young Michiganians ages 12 years to 17 have signed up for the drawing. 

Hutchins said during Wednesday's announcement that over half of UM students planning to attend classes on the Ann Arbor campus in August have received the vaccine. 

The sweepstakes is intended to give Michigan residents an incentive to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Whitmer's bid this summer to get the state fully back to normal.

The MI Shot To Win Sweepstakes giveaways include $5 million in total prizes, including 30 daily prizes of $50,000, a $2 million prize and a $1 million prize.

An initial $1 million drawing is open to all Michigan residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination between Dec. 1 and July 10. The $2 million drawing is open to all Michigan residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination between Dec.1 and July 30.

There will be daily drawings for $50,000 that are open to all eligible persons who receive their first dose of a COVID 19 vaccination on the date corresponding to the $50,000 daily drawing. The sweepstakes end Aug. 3. 

The $5 million behind the initiative comes from federal relief money that the Legislature has already allocated for the state's COVID-19 response, Ebersole Singh said. The money is left over relief aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020 that the Legislature subsequently approved to be spent under a work project after the end of last year, she said.

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.