Is a vaccine lottery in the future for Mississippi?

Talk is in the “nascent” stages, but the Mississippi State Department of Health is mulling the possibilities for vaccine incentives to entice the numerous people who have not gotten the COVID-19 vaccination, according to State Epidemiologist Paul Byers.

“We are really just beginning to look at the potential for what sort of carrots that we can offer from the state through our immunization program and through our federal grant process to really get more people to vaccinate,” Byers said during a talk with the Mississippi State Medical Association on Friday.

With vaccination rates lagging, incentives are increasingly garnering attention. Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery offers a chance at one of five $1 million prizes to residents 18 and older who have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state is also offering five full-ride college or university scholarships to residents ages 12 to 17 who have received at least one dose.

The Ohio Department of Health reported that the vaccination rate among people 16 and older increased by 28 percent during the weekend following the announcement of the lottery drawings.

Locally, with plans beginning for one or more vaccination clinics to be held at public housing complexes, the organizers are discussing the possibility of including a cash drawing to help persuade the residents to roll up their sleeves.

“If it takes an incentive, that’s what we’re looking at,” said Byers. “There’s a lot of companies, too, like Walmart that are paying their employees if they get vaccinated … Some nursing homes have done that also.”

Byers said incentives “could help us get to that next step. Every individual that we get vaccinated gets us closer to that finish line.”

Health officials hope people will consider the health advantages of vaccination.

“I want to remind everybody a huge incentive is, especially if you are working and you can’t afford to be sent home on quarantine, that if you are vaccinated and exposed, then you don’t have to quarantine or be tested,” said Dan Edney, the chief medical officer and regional health officer for the Central Public Health Region.

Alcorn County is at 23 percent of the population fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. Mississippi is at 28 percent and the United States is at 41 percent. Among neighboring counties, Tishomingo County is 25 percent fully vaccinated; Prentiss County, 27 percent; and Tippah County, 24 percent.

In Alcorn County, 26 percent have received at least one dose.

Among the younger populations, Byers said about 5,700 of the state’s 12- to 15-year-olds have received at least one shot, and about 8,600 of those 16 or 17 years old have received at least one dose.

Magnolia Regional Health Center has established a new phone number and web address for scheduling vaccinations. They are (662) 293-1144 and www.mrhc.org/ myvaccine

Staff Writer

Jebb Johnston is a 1991 Alcorn Central High School graduate and a 1995 Ole Miss journalism graduate. His primary beats are city and county government.

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