Alberta announced three $1-million lottery prizes to push more people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and to meet the targets of its ambitious reopening plan, which includes removing the provincewide mask mandate and holding the Calgary Stampede by early July.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the lotteries in a video posted to social media Saturday evening. Alberta will be the second province to announce such incentives, after Manitoba did the same last week.
Anyone in the province who has received at least one dose of vaccine will be able to register online to be entered for the draw. For those who haven’t already received their first vaccine shot, the government is offering a relatively small window to be a part of the contest. Mr. Kenney said the first draw will close one week after 70 per cent of eligible Albertans have received their first dose, and the government said the province is currently on track to hit that first-dose milestone by Friday. Nearly 69 per cent of eligible people 12 and older have already received a first dose.
The winner will be drawn the day Stage 3 of Alberta’s “Open for Summer” plan begins. Stage 3 comes into force two weeks after those 70 per cent of Albertans have received at least one dose of vaccine, to ensure the vaccines have time to take effect.
The second and third draws will take place later this summer. The government said more details about the contests and how to enter will be announced Monday.
The Alberta government has a lot riding on a higher uptake of vaccines. Mr. Kenney has staked his short-term political capital on a large-scale opening of the province in late June or early July – in time for the marquee Calgary Stampede festival and rodeo.
Last week, Mr. Kenney expressed concern about “diminishing demand for the first dose of the vaccines” and said the province isn’t on track to meet the vaccine threshold for the Stage 3 reopening, which will include the lifting of limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings. He said for the province to get to Stage 3 on schedule, tens of thousands more provincial residents need to get their first vaccine dose in the days ahead.
The province administered an average of 13,500 first doses a day for the past week, about half what it did the previous week and far below the highest single-day total of 75,000 in mid-May.
In the video posted late Saturday, Mr. Kenney spoke from a near-empty mass-vaccination site at the Edmonton Expo Centre. He said many Albertans have responded to the call to get vaccinated, but there’s not enough demand.
Many places around the world have launched similar lotteries to “nudge those who haven’t got around to getting their vaccines yet,” he said.
“After all, we’ve had to spend billions of dollars in our health care system, and … supporting people, through the past 16 tough months. So if we can just keep pushing up those numbers of people who are vaccinated, that will easily pay for itself in future savings.”
However, Alberta has moved to speed up its schedule for second doses – opening availability to 650,000 more residents last week. The province has a high rate of second doses given, at more than 19 per cent as of this weekend.
Last week, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to offer incentives to boost slowing demand for the shots, announcing a lottery that will hand out $2-million in cash and scholarships. That initiative followed the lead of a number of U.S. states, starting with Ohio, that have introduced major lotteries to try to reverse waning interest in vaccines.
Proponents of such incentive programs say the cost to governments is worthwhile, as the novelty of such a program brings attention to the push on vaccines in a way conventional public-health campaigns cannot. And compared with other provinces, Albertans have reported higher rates of vaccine hesitancy.
However, critics say the problem with vaccine incentives is that they could exploit some peoples’ financial vulnerabilities, might create the perception the doses aren’t trustworthy, or create the precedent that people will require a reward for future COVID-19 booster shots.
Recent polling suggested that Mr. Kenney has the lowest level of support among the premiers. The provincial economy is still more fragile than other provinces, and his government is suffering fallout from a number of unpopular policy decisions.
The Premier was forced to apologize last week after he and a handful of cabinet ministers were photographed at a private outdoor patio at the Federal Building in Edmonton while sitting close to one another – in apparent breach of their government’s own physical-distancing rules.
His reopening plan has been criticized by some doctors, who warn that it’s being rushed. The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, for instance, has said it believes that it’s unsafe to hold a major event such as the Calgary Stampede before at least 70 per cent of eligible Albertans have been fully vaccinated, with two doses.
With a report from James Keller in Calgary