BOSTON — Massachusetts has reached a milestone after vaccinating more than 4 million people for COVID-19, but the state is struggling to reach some who are still reluctant to get their shots.
The number of people seeking vaccines has slowed in recent weeks, and the state has shifted focus from mass-vaccination sites to community health providers and mobile units.
Now it's offering cash and prizes as incentives.
The "VaxMillions Giveaway," which was rolled out by Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday, offers Bay Staters who get fully vaccinated the chance to win up to $1 million in cash or a college scholarship.
"If you have been sitting on the sidelines and thinking about getting vaccinated but for whatever reason haven't, here is another reason for you to come forward, protect yourself, your friends, your co-workers and your neighbors," Baker said at a briefing. "The vaccine is free, and it now could be your ticket to winning $1 million."
The contest, which is being overseen by the state Lottery, will offer five $1 million prizes for fully vaccinated individuals 18 and older and five $300,000 scholarship grants to a 529 college savings plan, managed by the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, for individuals 12 to 17 years old.
Vaccinated residents can enter the contest beginning July 1. The contest is open only to residents who have been fully vaccinated in Massachusetts, regardless of when they received their shots. Drawings will be held once a week for five weeks, beginning July 26 through the end of August.
Massachusetts has one of the highest per-capita vaccination rates in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Tuesday, the state reached a milestone after announcing more than 4 million people have been vaccinated. The state has about 7 million residents.
Baker noted that new COVID-19 cases have plummeted by 99% from a peak in January, while hospitalizations are down 93% statewide. The state's positivity rate has also dropped by 95%, he said.
The improving public health metrics have allowed the state to fully reopen the economy and lift remaining restrictions on businesses and gatherings. A state of emergency, signed by Baker more than a year ago, expired Tuesday.
Despite that, Baker said the state needs to reach vaccine hesitant communities to avoid a resurgence of the coronavirus and its increasing mutations.
"The more people we get vaccinated, the better," he said. "The variants make this the kind of thing where we should do everything we can to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can."
Several other states and cities as well as businesses have offered vaccine prizes, as well, from cash to college savings bonds, concert tickets and subway vouchers.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.