SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom played gameshow host Friday in a drawing for 15 winners of $50,000 prizes for getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We've got a lot of work to do and that's really the spirit that brings us here today," Newsom said at the California State Lottery headquarters, where he was flanked by a machine used to randomly choose winners and a Wheel of Fortune-style colored wheel for show.
It was the first in a series of drawings for $16.5 million in prize money aimed at encouraging Californians to get their shots ahead of June 15, when the state plans to lift almost all virus-related restrictions. So far, 67% of eligible people 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state's goal is to fully vaccinate at least 75% of people.
Newsom announced the prize money last week, warning the state's vaccination rates were about to go off a cliff without an intervention. State officials said vaccine rates had dropped at the time by 18% from the week before.
In the week since Californians became eligible to win money, vaccinations were down 4% from the prior week, Newsom spokeswoman Erin Mellon said. One million vaccinations were given in the past week, she said.
Next week, another 15 people will win $50,000 and on June 15 there will be 10 grand prize winners who will get $1.5 million each — the largest of any vaccination prize in the country.
The winners will remain anonymous unless they give the state permission to share their names, and they have 96 hours to claim their prizes before the state draws alternate winners. The state will contact winners.
Additionally, the state has started providing $50 gift cards to people who get shots. More than 340,000 cards have been given out so far and the state plans to distribute 2 million, which are worth a total of $100 million.
Though vaccinations have slowed, California is among the leading states and already has surpassed Democratic President Joe Biden's goal of ensuring at least 70% of eligible adults have one shot by July 4.
Newsom acknowledged that with California's virus cases at record lows and the reopening looming it will be hard to convince the unvaccinated to finally get their shots.
“Moving from 70% of adults to 75% and beyond, that’s stubborn, that’s difficult work," he said.
State Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and vaccine advocate, and Claudio Alvarado, a pediatric emergency nurse at UC Davis Medical Center, helped Newsom draw the first $50,000 winners. A machine spun numbered balls and individually dropped out the winning entries. The only information about the winners was what county they lived in.
Populous counties accounted for most of the winners — three each came from Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Clara and two from San Francisco. Alameda, Orange, Mendocino and San Luis Obispo counties had one each.
More than 21 million people are eligible to win $50,000 prizes. The state assigned random numbers to each person then narrowed the list to 200 numbers. The first 50 were placed in the drawing, and the remaining 150 will be used to select next week's winners or replace any winner from Friday who doesn't claim the prize.
Anyone who has gotten at least one vaccine dose is eligible for the prizes, with a few exceptions including people who are incarcerated and those who work for the governor.