Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s administration has considered launching a statewide COVID-19 vaccination incentive program that would likely include a “substantial grand prize” as the Delta variant surges across the state, according to notes from a meeting of health officials shared with The Star.
The potential program, which would involve the Missouri Lottery, was outlined during a June 25 Zoom meeting of the Missouri Center for Public Health Excellence, or MOCPHE. Adam Crumbliss, director of the division of community and public health in the Department of Health and Senior Services, shared the potential program with the organization, MOCPHE director Larry Jones said.
The Brown Institute for Media Innovation’s Documenting COVID-19 project obtained the document through a records request and provided it to The Star.
The consideration of incentives comes as the Delta variant ravages rural Missouri. The state has one of the nation’s highest rates of COVID transmission and, according to the CDC, led the nation last week in the proportion of Delta variant cases.
Just under 40% of the statewide population has been fully vaccinated. The number is lower than 20% in some rural counties. On Thursday, the White House unveiled “surge response teams” to help states struggling with the virus. They will help with vaccine confidence efforts, epidemiology, surveillance and sequencing support related to the Delta variant. Missouri has asked for the assistance.
It wasn’t clear whether the proposal described during the meeting remains in play. Parson said this week “everything is on the table” when asked about possible incentives.
On Friday, a Parson spokeswoman said only that work is continuing on potential incentive options.
“We’re not yet at a point with an incentive program to confirm a direction that we are going,” Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox said. “We will announce any plans as soon as we are able.”
The notes were prepared by MOCPHE secretary Lisa Marshall, director of the Taney County Health Department. Marshall didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Will likely start in July. Working with MO state lottery. 3 separate drawing structures,” the notes read.
The Missouri Lottery didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the notes, the incentive program would involve multiple drawings for prizes centered on people who are vaccinated by certain dates. Educational scholarships for adolescents are also contemplated as a possible incentive.
The notes suggest that at least some incentives would be awarded by congressional district.
“Anticipate a substantial grand prize,” the notes say. “Will start to see more information about this next week.”
Scott Clardy, assistant director of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, attended the meeting. He said the state health officials’ outline of the lottery idea sounded tentative.
The minutes reflect concern from health officials about the variant even as Parson has spent recent weeks urging patience over Missouri’s stagnating vaccination rates.
“Challenges are vaccine hesitancy and lethargy of COVID prevention measures and messaging,” the notes say.
Parson demurred in mid-June when asked by reporters about a vaccine incentive program as cases climbed in northern and southwest Missouri, explaining he was not sure it was the government’s role to give out rewards for vaccination.
He was scheduled to attend a meeting on vaccines this Wednesday, and said prior to the meeting that “everything’s on the table right now.”
But he emphasized that he believes getting vaccinated is a matter of “personal responsibility.”
“We’re going to be talking about that,” he said of an incentive. “I’m always hesitant to think you have to actually pay somebody to do something they should do for themselves, you know, so there’s a balancing act to do that, because a year from now, another year from now, it could be something else.”
Clardy said he supported the idea. Boone County has the state’s highest rate of people fully vaccinated — 45%. But transmission rates are still increasing, and Clardy said 100% of viral parts found in sewershed testing as of June 21 were from the delta variant.
Of 50 COVID hospitalizations in Boone County hospitals, all but four are from outside the county, showing the impact of higher vaccination rates in the county, Clardy said.
“We would be thrilled to see incentives put out by the state,” he said.