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Philadelphia To Give Away Nearly $400,000 In Vaccine Prizes

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The interior of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in early 2020.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Monday that the city will be giving away cash prizes as part of a multiweek lottery to entice residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The sweepstakes will include three drawings with chances to win up to $50,000 and is a partnership between the city, the Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania and the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. Each of the drawings will award 12 prizes, with half being reserved for people in a designated undervaccinated zip code.

Several states including Ohio, New York, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and Maryland are running financial incentive lotteries to increase the number of people seeking out vaccines. Researchers at UPenn said the lotteries have shown success in motivating people to get vaccinated in many of those states, but the Philadelphia partners said they wanted to design a program to target the neighborhoods with the lowest vaccine rates.

“Incentives in general are raising a lot of interest around the country and in Philadelphia,” said acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole, saying she was open to discussing other possible incentives. “They seem to be powerful not as a sole way to get people vaccinated, but as a way to get some people vaccinated.”

Bettigole said the sweepstakes might not motivate people who still have medical or other concerns about getting the vaccine to go, but could motivate others who have had issues making time in their work schedule, finding child care or prioritizing the appointments to make it to the neighborhood clinics where the city is now focusing its efforts.

The first drawing on June 21 includes six $1,000 prizes, four $5,000 prizes and two $50,000 prizes. People living in the 19126 zip code in north Philadelphia including parts of the East and West Oak Lane neighborhoods will be awarded half the prizes in those categories.

City health department officials have said that zip code is one of the 20 least vaccinated in the city, and was chosen at random. Department records showed about 721,000 people, more than half of the city’s eligible residents, had been fully vaccinated as of Monday. Another almost 200,000 residents had received their first dose of the vaccine, meaning more than two-thirds of the city's eligible residents had received at least one dose.

The next two drawings on July 6 and July 19 will include the same prizes but will feature different under vaccinated zip codes to receive special consideration during those drawings, city officials said.

Wharton professor Katy Milkman, who studies behavioral economics and decision making, said that anyone who has already been vaccinated is also eligible for the drawing and encouraged people to sign up for the drawing on the city's vaccination sweepstakes website, by phone or by text to make sure that they are in the city drawing database. Chosen winners will be required to confirm they have received at least one dose of the vaccine and to approve a check with the jurisdiction where they received the vaccine.

Milkman said the program in Philadelphia is designed to pique people's sense of regret. If they sign up as interested but don't follow through on getting vaccinated, and their name is drawn, even for the $1,000 prize, there will be a sense of regret over not making time.

“Knowing that that's a possibility is highly motivating,” she said.