Study: 17 States Spent $89M On COVID Cash Bribes - and They Didn't Work

Brittany M. Hughes | October 19, 2021

From million-dollar lotteries to gun giveaways and car raffles, states and localities across the country have pulled out all the stops to entice hesitant citizens to get the COVID vaccine.

In fact, when it comes to simply handing out cash for jabs, they pulled out about $89 million in stops, to be exact. 

That's according to a recent study by JAMA Health Forum that showed that despite 17 states spending nearly $90 million on COVID cash bribes and incentive programs, none of those proverbial carrots seemed to move the needle on vaccine rates.

Business Insider reports

To reach that conclusion, researchers analyzed state-level COVID-19 vaccination data between April and July 2021, when shots were widely available and while 19 states were running vaccine lotteries. Their results indicated that the association between those states' announcements and their respective vaccination rates was "very small in magnitude and statistically indistinguishable from zero."

Andrew Friedson, an associate professor of economics at University of Colorado Denver who coauthored the study, said the programs were a massive waste of money that could have been spent actually helping people affected by the pandemic.

"There's an opportunity cost to spending money. Every dollar that you're spending on a lottery, you could have been spending on something else. That's the really economist-y answer," he told Business Insider. "So to the extent that we have policies that could have helped people, that we could have been spending money on, these were not a great use of funds."

The study, which analyzed data from six state health departments as well as lottery estimates from another 11, didn't include non-cash prizes like the state park passes, fishing licenses, and amusement park tickets handed out in Minnesota, the pickup trucks and rifles raffled off in Wast Virginia, the hunting license given away in Arkansas, or the vacations, college scholarships and park passes up for grabs in Delaware.

Though it's hard to imagine that if a chance to bank a pile of cold, hard cash didn't inspire people to stick out their arms, tickets to their local Six Flags probably missed the mark, too.