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Maryland’s newest COVID vaccine promotion: $50K for college to 20 young residents

Twenty young Maryland residents will be awarded $50,000 for college under a “VaxU” incentive program, the state’s latest attempt to convince people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The winners, all kids between the ages of 12 and 17 years old, will be selected in a series of twice-per-week random drawings beginning next week and continuing through Labor Day, Gov. Larry Hogan announced during a visit to the University of Maryland, College Park, on Wednesday.

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To be eligible, children must be residents of Maryland and have been vaccinated in the state.

Technically, the winners will have the money deposited in accounts with Maryland529, which manages state-regulated college savings plans. Winners ages 12-14 will have a four-year Maryland Prepaid College Trust Account funded, while winners ages 15-17 will have a contribution made to a Maryland College Investment Plan.

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The winners will be picked using the same system as the recently completed “VaxCash” lottery campaign, which dished out daily $40,000 prizes to 40 different adults who had been vaccinated and then wrapped up on July 4 with a $400,000 grand prize. The state health department assigned random numbers to vaccinated residents, and the lottery system selected winners at random.

Like the VaxCash promotion, winners in VaxU can choose to remain anonymous.

Hogan said he believes the VaxCash lottery — and extensive attention and media coverage the cash prizes attracted — helped boost flagging vaccination efforts in Maryland. The governor said he hoped the scholarships would do the same.

“We saw a bump after announcing that program, people who just needed a push, and we hope we’ll also see that with our young people,” Hogan said.

“If any of our 12- to 17-year-olds or their parents needed another good reason, then now they can get vaccinated for a chance to win a $50,000 college scholarship,” Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement.

This age group’s vaccination rate has been lagging behind adults in Maryland, with 50.8% of the 12-to-17 population receiving at least one vaccine dose so far. That’s compared to 75.2% of adults, people age 18 and older, with at least one shot, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

While the Maryland Lottery covered the cost of the VaxCash lottery, the $1 million in scholarship prizes is being paid for by federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package backed by Democratic President Joe Biden and passed in February by Congress.

Many colleges and universities are requiring students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated to return to campus for the fall semester, including all of the campuses in the University System of Maryland, as well as Morgan State University in Baltimore.

“If these scholarships get vaccines into the arms of more adolescents, more teenagers, count me in,” said University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman, a pediatrician who said his dual experiences treating children and running the university system during the pandemic had highlighted the urgency of getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

Although both Perman and Hogan touted the quality of Maryland’s public universities, the governor said winners can use the scholarship money to pay for tuition at any institution, including out-of-state or private colleges.

Every single person who died from COVID-19 in Maryland last month had not been vaccinated, Hogan noted Wednesday, underscoring the importance and effectiveness of the vaccines. The vast majority of those hospitalized from COVID-19 over recent months have also been unvaccinated — even though more than half the state’s population has gotten at least one shot.

Of the three COVID-19 vaccines available, only one — from Pfizer/BioNTech — is currently authorized for children as young as age 12.

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