Crescent City Pharmacy Manager Dr. Lishunda Franklin vaccinates Laverne Rose, 74, on Tuesday, Jan. 5. (Philip Kiefer/The Lens)

Over the course of July, Louisiana will offer $2.3 million in prizes for vaccinated individuals, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced in a press conference this afternoon.

Anyone who has had a first shot is eligible to register for the prizes via the state’s Shot at a Million website. (Registration begins on June 21.) Drawings begin on Friday, July 9. Each week, one person over the age of 18 will receive a $100,000 cash prize, and one person under 18 will receive $100,000 in college scholarship money.

On August 14, the state will give one entrant a $1 million prize and award five $100,000 scholarships. 

Edwards said that he hoped the program would speed up vaccination among people who were already interested: “I know there are many people who’ve intended to get the vaccine, they just haven’t yet.”

Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer, warned that the spread of the highly transmissible, deadly Delta variant of COVID-19 continued to cause concern, especially over the summer. 

“When the weather gets hot here, it drives people indoors, and we know that increases transmission.”

Louisiana is now one of several states offering significant financial incentives, from weekly lotteries to college tuition to bonds. Private companies have also offered up perks to the public or their employees.

Thirty-seven percent of Louisianans have received a first shot of the vaccine, and 33 percent are fully vaccinated, among the lowest rates in the country. Vaccination rates are lowest in rural parishes, and among young people.

Only 22 percent of people between 18 and 29 have received a first dose. 85 percent of people over 70 have received a first dose. Only 5 percent of people between 5 and 17 have received a first dose, although vaccines have only been approved for those over 12.

“Our particular interest is in younger folks,” said Edwards.

It’s not clear how much, if at all, the incentive will drive decision-making. In a survey produced by the Louisiana Public Health Institute this spring, 19 percent of respondents said that they were unsure whether they would get the vaccine, and another 23 percent said that they probably or definitely wouldn’t get it.

The survey didn’t ask about possible incentives. However, those who were hesitant or resistant to getting the vaccine said that they were most concerned about the side effects, safety, and efficacy of vaccines.

“I think the general experience in the U.S. is a short-lived positive response, larger if the enticement has resonance,” said Susan Hassig, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Tulane University. “A chance of winning a million dollars, dropping masks or other mitigation, dropping testing for college athletes — but timing is everything.”

There’s evidence that some people will be swayed by cash incentives. According to an analysis of UCLA survey data by The New York Times’ Upshot, willingness increased by 19 percent when people were offered $100 for taking a vaccine. (Willingness also increased with smaller cash rewards.)

But that effect was strongest among people who identified as Democrats, while vaccination rates remain lowest in rural, more conservative areas. Although there was a net increase in willingness, 15 percent of respondents actually said that they were less willing to take the vaccine if offered a cash reward.

The same UCLA survey data showed that Republicans responded strongly to incentives related to pandemic restrictions. Republican respondents said they were 18 percent more likely to get a vaccine if it meant that they no longer had to wear a mask.

Of course, that incentive is no longer available in Louisiana since the end of the statewide mask mandate in April.

“I had suggested requiring vaccination to attend Saints or LSU football games,” said Hassig, who has advised the statewide COVID response. “But that is not going to happen.” 

But accessibility, especially those doing shift work at grocery and dollar stores, continues to be an issue, said Ben Zucker, co-director of Step Up Louisiana. For those workers, a day’s worth of vaccine side effects could present a significant loss of income. “Workers are not getting paid time off and transportation to get the vaccines,” he said. “And it’s so clearly the investment corporations and the government need to be making.”