Ohio governor offers new vaccine incentive for young people

Andrew Welsh-Huggins
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio — Ohioans ages 12-25 who receive the coronavirus vaccine can enter a new lottery making them eligible for five $100,000 college scholarships and 50 $10,000 scholarships, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday in his latest effort to boost number of people vaccinated against COVID-19.

Details of the new Ohio Vax-to-College program will be announced soon, and is aimed at the group of Ohioans with the most room to grow in terms of receiving the vaccination, the Republican governor said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

Only 46% of Ohioans aged 12-25 statewide have received the initial dose of the vaccine, DeWine said. Receiving the vaccine is the best way for students to continue participating in sports from cross country to football and extracurriculars like theater and debate, he said. He reminded Ohioans that students who are vaccinated don't have to quarantine if they're exposed to someone with COIVD-19.

Vaccinations remain the state's ticket out of the pandemic, DeWine said.

“Keeping our children in school in person is a top priority for the state,” he said. “It is a top priority for parents. It is a top priority for our schools, our teachers, our administrators.”

The state has seen more than 42,000 cases of COVID among kids ages 5-17 in Ohio since mid-August, the governor said.

The incentive announcement came the same day the Ohio Hospital Association warned of a dire situation caused by increased coronavirus cases. In mid-July, one of every 100 hospital patients was being treated for COVID-19, the hospital association said. Today, that ratio is one patient out of six.

Virtually all Ohio patients hospitalized from the coronavirus today are unvaccinated, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the state health director.

Vax-to-School is the governor's latest effort to use a carrot approach to advancing the state's vaccination rate.

In a separate incentive program, state employees have been able to receive $100 for getting vaccinated, and their spouses could receive $25 if they also get vaccinated. More than 3,300 employees and 1,000 spouses have participated in that.

DeWine launched the nationwide movement to offer financial incentives to individuals to receive the vaccine in May with Ohio's Vax-a-Million program, a lottery that awarded five $1 million prizes to adults and five full-ride college scholarships to children.

While the program generated excitement, it resulted in only a temporary rise in vaccinations before numbers fell again. In July, the governor suggested he might launch a more modest statewide incentive program, then put the idea on hold to urge the FDA to grant COVID-19 vaccinations full approval.

The governor argued the vaccinations' current emergency use authorization was fueling vaccine hesitancy. The FDA granted that full approval to the Pfizer vaccine last month, but Ohio's vaccination numbers have continued to lag.

Just over 53% of Ohioans have started the vaccine process as of Thursday, or about 6.2 million people, according to the state Health Department. Just under 50% have completed the process, or about 5.8 million people.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 5,834.14 on Sept. 7 to 6,647.86 on Sept. 21, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Nearly all of the approximately 18,600 people hospitalized with COVID-19 this year were not fully vaccinated, the governor said last month.