California to award $1.5 million each to 10 residents in latest state vaccine incentive program

California is entering the COVID-19 vaccination lottery trend with the biggest contest yet.

Ten vaccinated residents will have the chance to win $1.5 million each, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday. The winners of the $15 million worth of cash prizes will be selected on June 15 — the same day when the state plans to fully reopen its economy.

The grand prize is part of a $116.5 million vaccine incentive program for vaccinated Californians.

A $50,000 cash prize will also be awarded to 30 residents. The announcement of those winners will be evenly split across June 4 and June 11.

PHOTO: Student nurse Dario Gomez, center, disinfects a chair after administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Providence Edwards Lifesciences vaccination site in Santa Ana, Calif., May 21, 2021.

Both contests are open to residents ages 12 and up with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. For minors who win, the cash will be put in a savings account for them until they turn 18. All Californians who have had at least one COVID-19 dose will automatically be entered to win both contests, the state said. The prize will be awarded once the winner has completed their vaccination series.

The state is also offering incentives to newly vaccinated residents. As of Thursday, the next 2 million people who begin and then complete their COVID-19 vaccination will automatically be eligible to receive a $50 virtual prepaid card or a $50 grocery gift card for select locations, while supplies last. Newsom said he hopes for the state to fully distribute those winnings by June 15.

“These are real incentives,” Newsom said during a press briefing Thursday announcing the program. “These are an opportunity to say thank you to those not only seeking to get vaccinated as we move forward, but also those that have been vaccinated since we first availed those opportunities a number of months ago.”

Newsom planned to make the vaccine incentive announcement Wednesday, but delayed it following a mass shooting in San Jose that morning.

PHOTO: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at Hanzo Sushi, April 29, 2021, in San Fernando, Calif.

In an interview with “Good Morning America’s” Zohreen Shah earlier this week, Newsom teased the contest.

“A lot of local governments are doing things, but we have prepared for this moment when we start to see a first dose drop-off. And what we’re seeing in the last week is a first dose drop-off, still steady on the second dose,” he said. “We were waiting for that first dose drop-off to then pull the trigger.”

As of Thursday, more than 21 million people — 63% of the state — have received at least one vaccine dose in California, according to state data. Half of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

With those ages 12 to 15 newly able to receive the Pfizer vaccine, California officials estimate there are now 12 million people who are eligible and have not taken the shot yet.

Newsom said he hopes to get over 70% of adults vaccinated by June 15, and “significantly increase” the number of younger residents. The state has other ideas for beyond that date, “but we want to see how far this takes us before June 15,” he said.

When asked by The Associated Press about how he would respond to criticism that this is “bad spending of public dollars,” Newsom said, “I think the worst spending is burying your head in the sand and continuing to do what you’ve done and not achieve the goals of getting all of us back on our feet, keeping people healthy and safe.”

“We can’t afford to run the 90-yard dash,” he said. “We got to finish the job.”

California is the latest state to launch drawings meant to encourage residents to get the shot as COVID-19 vaccination rates slow.

On Wednesday, Ohio, which popularized the idea, announced the first winner of its much-anticipated “Vaxx-a-Million” sweepstakes, which ultimately will award $1 million each to five residents who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. Since announcing its lottery, the state has seen a dramatic increase in vaccination rates.

Maryland drew a winner for its first $40,000 vaccine lottery prize Tuesday, kicking off 40 days of drawings.

Starting this week, New Yorkers can get a free lottery ticket potentially worth up to $5 million if they get vaccinated at state-run vaccination sites.

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