This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A new COVID-19 vaccine incentive program in California will hand out $116.5 million in prizes to residents, part of the final push to get shots in arms before the state lifts nearly all health restrictions on June 15.

A grand prize category will award $1.5 million each to 10 vaccinated residents, and the next 2 million people who get vaccinated in the state will be eligible for $50 grocery gift cards or pre-paid debit cards, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

People who have already been vaccinated are eligible for the large cash prizes.

As part of the “Vax for the Win” program, the state says:

  • A $15 million grand prize will be split between 10 vaccinated Californians, with each person getting $1.5 million cash, with winners selected June 15. All Californians who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will automatically be entered.
  • Thirty vaccinated Californians will win a $50,000 cash prize, with half the winners selected June 4 and the other half on June 11. All Californians who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will automatically be entered.
  • The next 2 million people to get vaccinated in California, beginning May 27, will automatically be eligible for a $50 virtual pre-paid card (either a debit card or grocery card for popular chains). The prize will be available after the person’s second shot (when necessary) and this prize is available only for new recipients.

The state has a record of everyone who has already been vaccinated, Newsom said in a news conference Thursday, and no further action is necessary if you have already gotten the shot. The governor joked that getting in line for a second vaccine dose will not improve your chances of winning.

In cases where a person aged 12 to 17 wins a cash prize, it will be put in a bank account until they turn 18, the state said.

About 63% of Californians 12 and older are at least partially vaccinated, according to state statistics, but an estimated 12 million people who are eligible have not gotten the shot.

“Gov. Newsom’s historic $116.5 million vaccine incentive program – the biggest in
the entire country – is a multi-faceted initiative to reinforce the value of vaccination for
all Californians, especially those in communities hardest hit by the pandemic, as
California prepares to safely reopen the economy on June 15th,” a statement from Newsom’s office reads.

“Californians who have received the vaccine are already entered for cash prizes, and those who haven’t yet should get vaccinated ASAP to receive a $50 card and a chance to win cash prizes.”

The rewards for participation have come off as controversial to some, but the general concept is something Assistant Professor Emily Largent at the University of Pennsylvania has studied for the past decade.

“As one of my colleagues points out, there are a lot of things we wouldn’t do if people didn’t offer us money,” Largent said. “She always says, ‘I love my job, but I wouldn’t show up if you didn’t pay me.’ So it seems surprising to talk about vaccine incentives maybe, but when we think more broadly there are actually a lot of behaviors that we incentivize through things like a paycheck.”

Largent specializes in medical ethics and health policy. She regularly looks at how we pay people to take on an activity that might also carry some risk to them – like a healthy study.

She says where the vaccine differs is it’s already tested, approved and proven effective, but there are still downsides to these incentives.

“We’re already talking about booster shots and certainly I worry that maybe we’ve started to set people up to think that there will be these kinds of incentives in the future,” she said.

Newsom said Thursday that the state remains on track for its mid-June reopening date. He added that the state is preparing to potentially offer new rewards after the reopening, but offered no further details.

Specific details on eligibility, prize stipulations and vaccination opportunities in your community can be found on the state coronavirus website.