California's new plan to boost vaccination rates involves giving away $116.5 million in cash, gift cards

A person walks down the street in San Francisco.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has said the state's economy will fully reopen on June 15 – that means capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements put in place because of COVID-19 will be lifted. To ensure as many residents as possible are vaccinated by then, state officials announced on Thursday a $116.5 million incentive program, called Vax for the Win.

Under the program, open to most Californians who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 10 residents will each win $1.5 million and 30 more will each receive $50,000. The drawings will be held on June 4 and June 11 for the $50,000 prizes, and June 15 for the $1.5 million awards. If someone under 18 wins, the money will go into a savings account until they are an adult.

"These are real incentives," Newsom said. "These are an opportunity to say thank you to those not only seeking to get vaccinated as we move forward, but also those that have been vaccinated since we first availed those opportunities a number of months ago."

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As of Thursday, more than 36.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in California, the Los Angeles Times reports, but the state's vaccination rate has dropped from a peak of 400,000 a day to around 200,000 a day, with many of those being second shots. Ohio was the first state to say it would have a vaccination lottery — Vax-a-Million, with $1 million prizes — and after the program was announced, there was a 55 percent increase in vaccination rates among adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

Beginning Thursday, the next 2 million Californians to start and finish getting their COVID-19 vaccine doses will be eligible for a $50 pre-paid gift card or $50 grocery store gift card. The money for all of the incentives is coming from the state's general fund, as California's tax revenues are projected to exceed earlier estimates, the Times reports.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.