Editorials, Opinion

Sorry, Babydog, but lotteries failed

“Do It For Babydog” just keeps going … and going … and going … even when it has become obvious the lottery isn’t working.

Several academic studies have looked at the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine lotteries.  In at least one, published in October, that examined the 19 states with lotteries, the overall result was a bust: The increase in vaccination rates was statistically insignificant — less than 1%. Some states saw a boost; most did not. West Virginia saw a decline in vaccination rates, even after a guaranteed offering of $100 to vaccinated 16- to 35-year-olds, and it didn’t go up from there.

For the lucky winners, the lottery probably seems worth it. The idea of a rewards system isn’t a bad one, but it’s only effective on those already inclined toward the vaccine. But as an incentive, the lotteries were a failure.

“Drawings were not, by any means, an informative vaccine promotional strategy,” said Andrew Friedson, one of the study’s authors. “It is highly possible that putting funds toward clear and complete messaging on vaccination would have been far more effective, such as awareness campaigns or more aggressive countermeasures against misinformation.”

The study did speculate that guaranteed income — rather than by-chance drawings — could be more effective. Obviously, that didn’t work for West Virginia’s young people, but it might have worked to encourage West Virginia’s seniors to get the booster — if participation wasn’t so difficult.

When Gov. Justice first announced “Do It For Babydog: Senior Center Edition,” the $50 pre-paid VISA reward was only going to be open to seniors who received their shots at a recognized senior center. Obviously, someone explained to him that many of West Virginia’s seniors don’t use or don’t have access to a senior center, so he announced Thursday  any resident 50 years old and up who got their shot anywhere could qualify — but only if they got boosted after Dec. 7. (In this case, early birds do not get the worm — or $50.)

The idea of rewarding seniors with money isn’t a bad one, especially since so many seniors could use a little extra cash right now between holidays and general inflation. But the execution of this particular sweepstakes has been a disaster.

Not only has this round disqualified anyone over 50 who got their booster as soon as possible, the registration system is the least senior-friendly website possible. Not only do registrants have to provide a driver’s license number (which can be worked around by calling 833-734-0965), they must also provide an email address (which many older seniors don’t have) and they must upload a copy of their vaccine/booster card.

We understand the proof of vaccination/booster is a measure against fraud. However, it’s counterintuitive to ask the least technologically literate demographic to do something more complicated than just typing in information and that can’t easily be done over the phone. For something that is meant to reward and incentivize seniors, Justice and his administration have made it a very senior-unfriendly process.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The money wasted on these lotteries would have been much better spent on funding health departments, getting vaccines to hard-to-reach areas and, as Friedson said, fighting vaccine disinformation.