SC lawmaker pushes $1M lottery incentive to boost vaccines

SOUTH CAROLINA — One of South Carolina’s top Democratic lawmakers wants the state to use some of its COVID-19 relief money to offer $1 million prizes to people who get vaccinated for the disease, similar to a program in Ohio.

That type of program might get South Carolina, where just 36% of residents are fully vaccinated, out of the bottom 10 in the percentage of residents who have completed their COVID-19 immunizations, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said.

“I think the message of the State of South Carolina should be clear. Get vaccinated: protect yourself, protect those around you, and you just might win a million dollars,” the Columbia Democrat said in a statement.

Rock Hill’s community vaccination clinic is only giving about 10% of the number of shots they gave a few weeks ago. You can even walk in without an appointment.

As COVID cases decline, so has interest in being protected from it. It’s a national trend, and it’s why some other states are offering prizes and even a chance at lottery-style jackpots for getting the shot.

Ohio is giving away five $1 million prizes to adults who have been vaccinated and a college scholarship to five children ages 12 to 17 who get their shots. Ohio saw an increase in vaccinations after announcing the prizes.

More than 2.7 million adults signed up for the $1 million prize and more than 104,000 children entered the drawing for the college scholarship, which includes tuition, room and board, and books.

A 22-year-old Ohio woman won a million dollars Thursday in that state’s new “Vax a Million” Lottery. A 14-year-old boy landed a full ride college scholarship to any state school.

Some say trying that in South Carolina is a good idea.

“You’d think incentive enough would be not getting COVID, but yeah, I think there would be a lot of people who would be more interested if there was some financial reward,” said resident Luke Jeffrey.

South Carolina senators considered more modest incentives during last month’s budget debate, including a $250 scholarship to college students who get vaccinated or $100 for the first 500,000 people to get the COVID-19 shot.

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto compared it to how crazy people get when prizes worth only several dollars are offered at sporting events.

“When they drop the things at the ball games, people jump all over themselves to get a Chick-fil-A sandwich gift card,” said Hutto, a Democrat from Orangeburg.

In South Carolina as of Friday, just over 44% of everyone over 12 has had at least one shot. It’s 40% in York and Lancaster counties, 36% in Chester and 31% in Chesterfield.

The money for a million-dollar give away like Ohio’s would be taken from from COVID relief dollars. That’s where York County Republican representative Gary Simrill draws the line.

“I would not support using tax dollars, which is what these are, for paying people, entering them in a lottery, enticing incentivizing, or whatever term you want to use, to take the vaccine,” Simrill said.

Some, like Melanie Mathews of Rock Hill say people should get the vaccine if they believe in it, not because someone’s giving money away.

“Don’t go and get something because you’re gonna get money from it. That’s not the point,” she said.

If any vaccine incentives become reality in South Carolina it won’t be soon. Lawmakers don’t go back until September to deal with how to spend new COVID relief money coming into the state.

(WATCH: Everyone 16 or older can now get a COVID vaccination in South Carolina)