Will Fabulous Prizes Entice Students to Come On Down and Get Vaccinated?

Million-dollar giveaways. Vacation packages. And yes, even free marijuana.

States are getting creative, to say the least, when it comes to enticing adults to get a COVID-19 vaccine. For the under-18 crowd, the incentives are more PG but no less potentially life-changing. They’re getting a shot at thousands of dollars in scholarships.

States are trying to buoy interest in vaccinations with an eye on economic recovery and a return to normalcy, including for school reopenings in the fall. But children 12 to 17 have some catching up to do when it comes to COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Colorado is hoping to get more youngsters vaccinated by opening a drawing for 25 scholarships worth $50,000 each. In his announcement of the first five scholarship winners, Gov. Jared Polis called inoculation “our ticket for students to return to the classroom.”

“It will certainly bring the rate of contracting COVID down, but also it makes sure that students who are returning to their middle school or high school will not be passing it along,” says Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “If we can do that at the high school level, when they’re on their way [to college], hopefully by then on college campuses it won’t be a big deal.”

She paused for a moment to reflect on the magnitude of the scholarships.

“It does boggle my mind,” Paccione says excitedly. “If I was 12, I would say, ‘Mom, get my name in that hat.’ It’ll sit in an interest-bearing account, so if you’re 12, that 50 grand could turn into 70 grand.”

New York is betting that offering 50 full-tuition scholarships一which also include room and board to any four-year school in the state or city university of New York systems一will encourage students get the first jab of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of June. In New York City, inoculations are up by about 40,000 among the 12 to 17 age bracket compared to last week. In the rest of the state, 49,000 more young New Yorkers got their first vaccine dose in the week following the scholarship announcement.

Other states are investing in similar strategies:

  • Kentucky is offering 15 full-tuition scholarships to any public college, university or trade school.
  • North Carolina is ponying up four scholarships of $125,000 each.
  • Delaware is taking a more varied approach by adding drawings for vacations, park passes and tickets to other attractions alongside the chance to win a full scholarship to a public state university.
  • Ohio has opened a drawing for a full-tuition scholarship to any of its state colleges and universities.
  • Harris County, Texas, is offering $50,000 in scholarships to 10 students.

One of the first Colorado recipients was 14-year-old Arianna Garcia, who will be the first in her family to go to college.

“Receiving the scholarship is not only helping me further my education after high school, but relieving some financial burden off my family’s shoulders,” she told the Denver Post. “It’s more time to focus on my studies and learning rather than learning about debt.”

It’s not yet clear whether the Colorado Board of Health will mandate the vaccines for K-12 schools (many states are staying mum on the topic), but school staff in Aurora will have to get a COVID-19 vaccine if any obtain full FDA approval.

Most Colorado universities will require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campuses in the fall, Paccione says, with four-year residential universities shouldering the highest concern about virus spread.

“We saw it in dorms, we saw it in sports teams, people who were in really close proximity to one another. They were the ones who were not only contracting but also spreading it,” Paccione says. “We knew we didn’t want this August to be like last August.”

Universities in the state saw a drop in undergraduate enrollment rates last year, some in the double digits, she says. Some students chose to take a gap year, while many who soldiered on with classes missed out on quintessential college experiences.

“I think we are on track to have it be as close to normal as we could have because there’s enough time and awareness about the vaccine,” Paccione says. “I think the rate of contracting COVID will go down significantly in the fall. It will allow our college sports and recreational facilities to open up, and that’s getting us really back to normal.”

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