COLUMBUS, OHIO – The first winner of the Ohio $ 1 Million Vax-a-Million Vaccine Incentive Award was on her way to her family in suburban Cleveland when she received a call to the good news – from Governor Mike DeWine.
A few minutes later, Abbigail Bugenske was in her parents’ house screaming so loud they thought she was crying.
“A whirlwind,” Bugenske, 22, said Thursday morning at a press conference. “It has absolutely not been processed yet. I’m still digesting it – and I like to say that I feel like it’s happening to a different person. I can’t believe it.”
Bugenske is a mechanical engineer working for GE Aviation in suburban Cincinnati, and has no plans to quit her job. She grew up in Shaker Heights near Cleveland and graduated in 2020 from Michigan State University. She said she plans to donate to charities, but then invest most of it.
She was on her way to Cleveland to look at used cars when she got the word, she said, and added, “I think buying a used car is always in my future.”
The winner of a full scholarship was Joseph Costello, eighth student at Englewood, near Dayton.
“Very excited,” Costello said as he sat between his parents, Colleen and Rich, at the virtual press conference. Although it was far away, Joseph said he had thought of Ohio state or Miami from Ohio for college.
Colleen Costello said she got the governor’s call as she left work on Wednesday. At first she thought it was a recording, then realized it was DeWine himself.
“I was really grateful at that point that there was a bench nearby, because I needed to sit down,” she said.
DeWine visited the Costello family in person with his wife, Fran DeWine, on Wednesday after the announcement. He said he only knew the names of the winners shortly before making the calls.
“Calling someone and telling them they’ve made millions of dollars is a good thing, and calling a family and telling them they have a four-year scholarship is also fun,” the governor said.
Bugenske said she received the Moderna vaccine as soon as she was eligible, long before the lottery was announced. The Costellos said they were already vaccinated and planned to have their children vaccinated by the end of the month, but the announcement of the lottery prompted them to postpone those appointments.
During a scheduled visit to Cleveland on Thursday, President Joe Biden said, “Ohio has a new millionaire! I’m telling you what, who would have destroyed it, a million dollars to get the vaccine? But it works. “
Over 2.7 million adults registered for the $ 1 million prize and over 104,000 children ages 12 to 17 participated in the drawing for the college scholarship, which includes tuition , the room and the meal and the books. Four more winners of $ 1 million and college scholarships will be announced every Wednesday for the next four weeks.
DeWine, a Republican, announced the program on May 12 to increase late vaccination rates.
The Ohio Lottery conducted the first draw on Monday afternoon at its Cleveland raffle studio using a random number generator to pick winners in advance, then confirmed the final winner’s eligibility.
Participants must register to register by phone or through the Vax-a-Million website. Teens can register themselves, but parents or legal guardians must verify their eligibility. The names of the participants who do not win will be carried over from week to week. The deadline for new registrations is just before midnight on Sunday.
“I know some may say, ‘DeWine, you are crazy! This million dollar drawing idea is a waste of money,” the governor said in announcing the incentive. But with the vaccine now readily available, the real waste, “is a life lost due to COVID-19,” the governor said.
The concept seemed to work, at least at first. The number of people aged 16 and over in Ohio who received their initial COVID-19 vaccine jumped 33% in the week after the state announced its million-dollar incentive lottery. dollars, according to an Associated Press analysis.
But the same review also found that vaccination rates are still well below the figures for April and March.
More than 5.2 million people in Ohio had at least started the vaccination process as of Monday, or about 45% of the state. About 4.6 million people have finished getting vaccinated, or 39% of the state. Nationally, more than 165 million Americans have started the immunization process, or nearly 50% of the population. More than 131 million are fully vaccinated, or nearly 40%.
Vax-a-Million is open to permanent residents of Ohio who have received the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson or their first part of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccination.
DeWine’s proposal inspired similar vaccination incentive lotteries in Colorado, Maryland, New York State and Oregon.
In Colorado, Democratic Governor Jared Polis said the state will hold a weekly lottery for five residents to win $ 1 million on Tuesday to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations. Colorado is setting aside $ 5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds that would have been used to advertise vaccines for five residents to earn $ 1 million each.