NC teacher, 14-year-old named first winners of vaccination lottery

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper announced the first two winners of North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccination lottery on Monday, part of the state’s push to increase vaccination rates.

The first winner, who will taken home $1 million for being vaccinated, was identified as Shelly Wyramon from Winston-Salem.

Wyramon, a teacher with 20 years of experience and a mother of three, said she still doesn’t believe she won. She said she was scheduling her teenage daughter’s vaccine appointment when she learned she won the drawing.

“Obviously, I was overwhelmed. Not believing it, I still don’t believe it,” Wyramon said. “Who believes you’re going to win $1 million? I couldn’t believe we won until I saw Secretary Cohen on our computer screen congratulating us. I can’t put into words what that means for our family.”

Wyramon said it was an easy decision to get her and family vaccinated.

“We have elderly parents and wanted to protect their health and safety as well as our own and others from COVID-19,” Wyramon said.

Vania Martinez, a 14-year-old high school freshman from Wilmington, was announced as the winner of the $125,000 for post-secondary education tuition at a university of her choice.

“When I first got the phone call, I thought it was a lie. But my mom was like ‘No, it’s real,’” Martinez said.

Martinez said she had just started a summer job to start saving for college.

“I knew it would be hard for my mom to pay for me to go to college, so I started saving the money I make at my summer job,” Martinez said. “Now I know for sure I’ll have money to pay for college and this means a lot to my mom and me.”

Martinez said the loss of loved ones from COVID-19 and seeing others struggle as they recover from the virus moved Martinez to get vaccinated as soon as she was eligible.

“I saw information about teens being eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at Independence Mall and went home to research it more,” Martinez said. “I went back to the mall with my mom because I wanted to get my shot and I convinced her to get vaccinated too.”

Both winners were selected randomly last Wednesday, but officials said it took days to identify the winner. The NCDHHS said it had to first contact the winner and confirm their identify. The winner then had to agree to be named publicly before officials could make the announcement.

A total of four vaccinated residents 18 and older will win $1 million each. Four residents ages 12 to 17 will win tuition prizes.

Officials said there were nearly 5 million entries into the $1 million drawing and 348,000 entries into the scholarship drawing.

Winners will be chosen every other Wednesday until Aug. 4. The second drawing will take place on July 7.

Cooper said he hopes that after Monday’s announcement of the winners that it will lead to an increase of vaccinations. Within the first two weeks of the state announcing the $4.5 lottery package, about 118,000 residents got their first shot.

Cohen said other states have seen larger bumps in vaccinations because they announced their lotteries earlier than North Carolina. Cooper said the state is not going to hit its goal of getting two-thirds of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

State health data shows 53% of eligible vaccine recipients at least 12 years old and 55% of adults 18 or older have gotten at least one shot, which is well below the national average of 63% and 66%, respectively.

North Carolina is near the bottom in the United States in vaccinations, ranking 12th worst in the nation in shots administered per capita and 2nd worst among states with a Democratic governor, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’ve got to pull out all the stops to get this done, so that’s what we’re doing,” Cooper said. “Whatever brings people in to get their vaccinations, we want to do. One of the things I know we have to do is to do this one person, one household, one telephone call, one shot at a time. That’s where we are right now.”

How it works

Anyone 18 and older who’s gotten at least one dose is automatically entered to win. Those who got their shot since June 10 will be entered twice.

Everyone who got at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina will be assigned a number. On the day of the drawing, the state will use a random number generator to pick 20 people.

Officials will go down the list until they find an eligible winner who agrees to reveal their identity.

If the winner doesn’t respond to NCDHHS after two business days or doesn’t agree to be named publicly, they give up the $1 million.

NCDHHS will then go down the alternate list until a winner is determined.

The money comes from COVID-19 relief funds.

Some say vaccine lottery is an exciting perk but not a motivating on

With less than a week until the Fourth of July, the state lags well behind President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of American’s vaccinated against COVID-19.

In North Carolina, 41% of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated and 44% have had their first dose.

Gov. Roy Cooper hopes the lottery will boost those numbers.

“Not only do you get protection for yourself and your family and people who come in contact with you, you could win $1 million,” Cooper said.

The lottery was announced on June 10. The number of people who got vaccines that week increased by a few thousand, but then fell off again last week, according to NCDHHS’s dashboard.

Mecklenburg County’s health director Gibbie Harris told Channel 9 she hasn’t seen a big increase in vaccinations since the announcement.

“Not a huge difference. Not the spike we think we saw in Ohio,” Harris said.

She hopes that will turn around once a winner is announced.

“I think when that first one is pulled, and the first name comes out, people will find out there are three more, and maybe, that will make a difference,” Harris said.

Mecklenburg County is not the only entity saying the lottery has not brought out people in droves.

Dr. David Priest of Novant Health reported the same.

“I think we reached a place where individuals who are really interested in a vaccine got a vaccine. And now, we are kind of in a holding pattern,” Priest said.

The expansion of a smaller incentive was also announced on Wednesday. NCDHHS program to give out a $25 gift card to those who get a shot was originally only offered in 10 counties, including Mecklenburg. it’s now expanding to 38 counties, including Gaston, which has suffered with low vaccine numbers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(WATCH BELOW: Mecklenburg, Rowan counties offering $25 cash cards for COVID vaccinations)