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California Gov. Gavin Newsom and others hold a mock check as the state drew the first 15 winners to be awarded US$50,000 for getting vaccinated against COVID-19, at the California Lottery Headquarters on June 4, 2021, in Sacramento.

Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Associated Press

Premier Jason Kenney took to Twitter this week to announce that more than a million Albertans had registered for the Open for Summer Lottery.

The sweepstake is designed to coax those who have not yet had their first COVID-19 vaccine to get with the program. Demand for first doses has plummeted recently, not great for a province that already had among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. So to nudge people along, the province is offering three $1-million prizes.

Anyone who already had a shot, which was nearly 68 per cent of eligible people when the lottery was announced, qualified to win the first draw. In other words, the million who signed up are not necessarily people who were persuaded to get their first jab because of the lottery. In fact, the vast majority were likely people who’d already been vaccinated.

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But that’s okay. There will be two more $1-million draws that will only be for those who are fully vaccinated with two shots, thus the numbers who register may give us a better idea of the promotion’s success or failure.

And just to entice those who still might be vaccine hesitant – at 17 per cent Alberta has, behind Saskatchewan, the second highest percentage of people who fit this description in the country – Mr. Kenney announced that 40 travel packages courtesy of WestJet and Air Canada have been added to the loot you can win if you get fully vaccinated.

The province is expected to cross the 70 per cent threshold for those with at least one dose of vaccine this week. Two weeks after that milestone is reached, Alberta will effectively be fully open for business. It is the most aggressive re-opening plan in the country. Let’s hope it works.

Let’s hope the vaccine lottery works as well. Not everyone is persuaded of its merits.

They have become ubiquitous in the U.S. where vaccine hesitancy is much more of an issue than it is in this country. America being America, everything is on offer. State governments have lotteries like Alberta’s, but some are also offering trips to Vegas, tickets to Six Flags parks, free booze, free pot and, in West Virginia, free guns. Even United Airlines is getting in on the act, offering a chance to win a year of free first-class travel if you join their Mileage Plus rewards program and prove you’ve been vaccinated.

This is the world we live in.

Count me as cynical when it comes to these bribes, enticements, whatever you want to call them. Why are governments using taxpayers’ money to get people to do something that could save their life and prevent them from possibly passing on a deadly virus to another human being? Handing someone a million dollars to do the right thing seems morally reprehensible.

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I also think it could backfire, with people who are vaccine reluctant becoming even more so in the belief there must be something wrong with the stuff governments want to shoot in your arm if they have to offer $1-million sweeteners to get you to do it.

Also, air packages and promises of free beer aren’t going to change the minds of the vaccine hesitant. Someone who is anti-abortion, for instance, isn’t suddenly going to reverse his position because he has a chance to win a trip to Vegas or a $1-million lottery. Same with anti-vaxxers.

These inducements may well prompt those who were just plain lazy, or worse, thought they could avoid the hassle of getting a shot until herd immunity is reached. And there are lots of people out there like that.

Yes, luring these people to get a shot with money and prizes is repugnant and hurtful. At the same time, the quicker Alberta (Manitoba has also introduced a similar lottery scheme) can get those disinclined to get vaccinated, vaccinated, the quicker the province can get back to normal.

The quicker we get people vaccinated, the quicker hospitals can return to something resembling normal too. As much as I detest the idea of having to bribe people to do the responsible thing, I don’t think the money is entirely wasted.

The dollars that the province will save in health care costs from people not filling up emergency rooms and intensive care units with the ill effects of this dreadful disease will more than make up for whatever is being spent on these lotteries.

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If there is any justice, the person who wins Alberta’s first $1-million draw will be someone who didn’t need to be persuaded by a lottery to get vaccinated. It will be someone who did it because it was the right thing to do.

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