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Maryland wraps up COVID vaccine incentive program with $400,000 jackpot; winner from Baltimore hasn’t come forward yet

Are you a Baltimore City resident who has been vaccinated against COVID-19? You may already be a winner.

Maryland health officials are trying to reach a Baltimore resident who won the $400,000 jackpot from the state’s vaccine lottery. That’s about $268,000 after taxes.

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The jackpot, drawn Sunday, concludes the state’s VaxCash incentive program, which saw a total of $2 million doled out over a month and a half in the attempt to encourage more people to get their coronavirus shots. Maryland was one of a handful of states across the U.S. to try out a lottery as a means of countering vaccine hesitancy and boosting vaccination rates, which have leveled off after an initial clamoring for shots.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced the VaxCash program in May. His spokesperson, Mike Ricci, called the program “a great success” and wrote in an email Monday that it “helped Maryland reach the milestones of 70% of adults by Memorial Day and 75% of adults by the Fourth of July.”

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About 75% of adults 18 or older in Maryland have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to state health data. That number includes people from out of state who were vaccinated in Maryland and is higher than the national average. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67.1% of adults 18 or older in the U.S. have received at least one dose, falling short of Democratic President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% by the Fourth of July.

Less than half the U.S. adult population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, a factor public health officials warn puts the nation at risk as the dangerous Delta variant begins to dominate.

It’s hard to say whether lotteries have been effective at boosting vaccination numbers in the U.S. Ohio, the first state to unveil a lottery program tied to vaccines, wrapped up its $5 million Vax-a-Million effort last month. In an article published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers said the program did not lead to an increase in vaccinations. Instead, increasing vaccination rates may have been due to the expansion of vaccine eligibility to teenagers.

Ricci said there are no plans to extend Maryland’s VaxCash promotion.

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The Maryland Lottery paid for the $2 million in drawings from its marketing and promotional budget. According to the website for the Maryland Lottery, that money won’t impact the group’s contributions to public schools.

All Marylanders 18 or older who received a shot at a nonfederal facility in the state were automatically entered in the daily drawings, which saw 40 winners of $40,000 and the $400,000 jackpot. City residents have won three of the previous drawings. Some of the other winners came from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, including Deidre Poore Eagan, a grocery store employee of Towson, and Katie Limbacher, an Elkridge resident who teaches in Anne Arundel County. Some winners chose to remain anonymous.

Lottery officials said no one has yet come forward to claim the $400,000 jackpot, but they hope it will happen within the next few days.

The VaxCash promotion was one of several government and private efforts to get more shots in arms. Earlier, Maryland began offering state workers a $100 bonus for getting the vaccine. Employees must show proof of vaccination to their human resources office and agree to get any required booster shots. Workers at Morgan State University and the University System of Maryland are not eligible for the payments, since they’re already required to get the vaccine as part of their jobs.

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