Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday June 17, 2021
Think bigger, and smaller, than a vaccine lottery
The percentage of Canadians who’ve had their first shot of COVID-19 vaccine has rocketed this country to the top of the global charts. Yet even as Canada pivots to focusing on second doses, one-quarter of Canadian adults and teens have still not taken their first shot.
Could a lottery get them to stretch out their arms?
Last month, Ohio decided to try that approach. It’s part populism, part behavioural science.
On May 12, the governor announced that the vaccinated would be entered into a draw, with a US$1-million prize awarded weekly, for five weeks.
The behavioural science insight behind all of this is that the human brain tends to misjudge probabilities. It’s why lotteries, with their poor odds – Ohio’s grand-prize odds are roughly one in a million – are often referred to as a tax on stupidity. Ohio decided to try to harness that stupidity for a good cause, namely boosting the vaccination rate. Several other states followed its lead, as have Manitoba and Alberta.
So how are things working out?
Thanks at least in part to Vax-a-Million, Ohio’s low vaccination rate did rise – but only for a short time.
In the seven days up to and including May 12 – the day the lottery was announced – the state of nearly 12 million people administered fewer than 92,000 first shots, according to our calculations from data on Ohio’s vaccine dashboard. The next week, after the lottery launched, first-shot vaccinations more than doubled.
The following week, however, vaccinations dropped by about a quarter. The next week, they dropped by almost half. The following week, they fell some more; the week after that, they fell sharply again.
And over the five days to June 14, Ohio averaged about half as many first shots as in the five days leading up to the lottery launch.
Ohio, which has now given a first dose to 47 per cent of its population, needed to up its rate by as much as 20 percentage points. Vax-a-Million appears to have delivered a boost of perhaps two percentage points, at most.
So far, Alberta’s lotto results are even less promising. Premier Jason Kenney announced the lottery plan
on Saturday; on Sunday, Alberta recorded its lowest number of first shots since February. Monday’s tally was the second lowest since February. Tuesday was even lower.
There are many reasons why a quarter of eligible Canadians are still not vaccinated. The lack of pandemic prizes is likely the least of it. (Globe & Mail)