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A Chance At Cash? Worth A Shot (or 2)

By Alan Olson - for the Tyler Star News | Jun 2, 2021

WHEELING — The morning after Gov. Jim Justice one-upped Ohio by promising “big, big cash prizes” and Ford F-150 trucks as rewards for a few lucky COVID-19 vaccine recipients, the local vaccine hub in Ohio County saw a spike of walk-ins, interested in getting protected, and maybe a little extra.

Wheeling-Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble reported that Friday morning had a larger than usual number of walk-ins, ready to get any of the three vaccine options available to locals. Gamble said that the vaccine hub at The Highlands was well stocked and ready to meet the elevated demand.

“We had quite a few walk-ins this morning,” Gamble said Friday afternoon. “I was at the vaccine center, setting it up, and we had quite a few walk-ins, and that was the question, were the walk-ins attributed to the incentive, and who knows? Now that we have the vaccine, now that we can keep it a little longer, we’ve got all three up there.”

Gamble said the recent effort by states such as West Virginia and Ohio to enter vaccine recipients in a random drawing for prizes is beneficial to the public health effort.

“Incentive programs to get vaccinated, in this day and age, are probably what we need to get people vaccinated, as opposed to the other side of government and public health, which is compulsory,” Gamble said.

“Although counties and states and governments can require vaccinations — that’s been upheld by the Supreme Court — this is probably a better approach.

“If we can get a few people protected, the end result, saving a life, is worth it. ‘We’re trying to get you vaccinated by offering you something. I think we have to weigh that against, ‘We have a virus that is new, can spread very quickly,’ and if we can get a few more people protected by utilizing an incentive program, then it’s worth it.”

The scope of the prizes offered, from cash payouts to custom-built vehicles, Gamble said, were relatively inconsequential, being a creative use of government funds to incentivize the vaccine. This was particularly important when any case of COVID-19 could lead to a loss of life.

“It’s unique, it’s a different approach, but I think the result for public health is, … we need to get more people vaccinated,” Gamble said. “If this is what it takes to get a few more people in our family to say, ‘I’m going to go do it, because my odds of winning are better than hitting the Powerball,’ then we could save a life.

“That one person could infect an entire workforce, a business, a community, or a household and we could have a loss of life,” he said. “It’s worth it. … If the state wants to do these creative incentive programs, we’ll be there to provide the vaccinations.”