Ohio lawmakers from both parties have rebuked Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s plan to incentivize vaccination against COVID-19 via five $1 million lottery drawings from the pool of vaccinated Ohioans.
Republicans, who have repeatedly clashed with DeWine on pandemic policy culminating in their override of his veto of an overhaul of public health laws, bristled at the concept of any state-funded incentive for vaccination.
Democrats, who have offered more tepid support of the governor on COVID-19, criticized the idea as unscientific and a poor allocation of federal funds.
DeWine announced the proposal Wednesday in conjunction with plans to remove nearly all remaining health orders June 2. He also announced a separate lottery for vaccinated 12- to 18-year-olds, entering them into a drawing for full-ride college scholarships.
“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice,” said Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, in a statement.
“Let me be clear; I do not support Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to offer taxpayer funded incentives in an effort to get more Ohioans vaccinated before he lifts his health orders.”
The lottery news comes amid an epidemiological and political fever pitch.
On the pandemic: Ohio’s infection rates have decreased, but so has its vaccine uptake. As of Thursday, about 43% of Ohioans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, but the pace of new vaccinations on a state and national level has nosedived.
On politics: Come June 23, lawmakers will have new authority to squash public health orders, thanks to their override of DeWine’s veto on Senate Bill 22 in March. Lawmakers have made clear their intent to scrap the orders.
Related: DeWine’s Removal of Ohio health orders comes amid legislative pressure
State Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton, called the lottery a “gameshow gimmick;” Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, mused, “Think of how many homeless veterans could have been helped with the more than $5 million being used as a vaccine lottery.
Many Ohio Republicans have taken an adversarial position to vaccination writ large. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to prohibit employers or colleges from requiring vaccination. Several lawmakers have publicly declared their refusal to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Democrats, for their part, scoffed at the idea as well, but generally with different reasoning.
“Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to responding to this ongoing crisis,” said House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, the ranking Democrat.
Rep. Allison Russo, an Upper Arlington Democrat and congressional candidate, questioned deploying an “unproven and untested” lottery program in lieu of trusted messengers and a boots-on-the-ground rollout strategy. Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, called the lottery a stunt.
“Over the past year, Ohio has been overtaken and riddled with extremist, anti-science ideologies that dominate the state legislature. It is no coincidence that we are now facing significant vaccine hesitancy in our communities,” she said. “While I’m supportive of educational scholarships, this is not a solution to our public health or educational shortfalls in Ohio.”
State Sen. Tina Maharath, D-Columbus, voiced her disapproval with verve.
“I had no idea I was a contestant on ‘Who Wants to Waste $1M of federal COVID-19 relief dollars,” she said.
— Tina Maharath (@TinaMaharath) May 12, 2021
It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will mount any sort of legislative or legal challenge to the proposal.
DeWine said at a press briefing Thursday he told House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, both Republicans from Lima, about the plan. DeWine said no lawmakers have contacted him with specific criticism.
“I didn’t go into this and make this decision thinking that everyone was going to say it was a wonderful idea,” he said. “This is one tool we have not used.”
Spokespeople for both Cupp and Huffman did not respond to inquiries.