Philly to give away $400k in vaccine sweepstakes

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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Later this month, a Philadelphian could get a call letting them know that they’ve won $50,000 through a legitimate, city-endorsed lottery.

But the money will go to someone else if they have not received a COVID-19 vaccine, bringing about a feeling of disappointment officials hope people will want to avoid by getting inoculated in the near future.

No one has to register for the “Philly Vax Sweepstakes,” which was designed by academics at the University of Pennsylvania and announced Monday.

Instead, the lottery will pull from an existing database of 1 million Philadelphia adults, though those who want a chance at the cash can register just in case their name is not in the pot.

The first winners will be picked June 21, with additional drawings July 6 and July 19. During each round, there will be two $50,000, four $5,000 and six $1,000 prizes.

For each drawing, a low-vaccinated zip code will be chosen at random and announced in advance. Residents of that area will be guaranteed to receive half of the award money, giving them a roughly 100 times greater chance of winning.

On June 21, the lucky zip code will be 19126, which covers parts of East and West Oak Lane.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said the sweepstakes is “intended to move people who are thinking about getting a vaccine to action.”

“Every single way we can make this process easier and more attractive means more Philadelphians vaccinated and more people safe and protected against this pandemic,” she told reporters Monday.

Penn researchers with expertise in medicine, psychology and economics helped put together the lottery, said Katy Milkman, a professor at the university’s Wharton School.

She said targeting the under-vaccinated zip codes to boost inoculation coverage in those neighborhoods, many of which have been hardest hit by COVID-19, was a priority.

“We’re also using what behavioral scientists call a regret lottery, which means you might find out that you could’ve won if only you’d gotten vaccinated,” Milkman said. “Knowing that’s a possibility can be highly motivating.”

More than two-thirds of the city’s adult population, or 836,370 people, are at least partially vaccinated, and more than half are fully protected, according to health department data.

“But the last third are the hardest to reach for many reasons,” Bettigole said. “They may not have a predictable work schedule. They may have difficulty getting childcare, or they may have questions about the vaccine.”

“And some folks figure they’ll get it but they’ve had too many priorities besides getting vaccinated,” she added.

Milkman said Penn approached Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration with the idea for the sweepstakes, and the academics were in talks with states and other municipalities.

There will be a research component, with the results studied to see if the drawings increased vaccination rates. Penn is funding the $400,000 in total winnings.

Other states and cities have been offering incentives since inoculations began to slow following an early rush of people eager to get the shot.

In California, $116.5 million in cash and gift cards has been set aside for those willing to roll up their sleeves; and a Ohio woman has already received a $1 million prize after winning a vaccine lottery.

Last month, 500 free Sixers tickets were distributed during a Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium clinic in North Philadelphia, and the Flyers offered two free tickets for next season to fans who received a shot during one of their games.

To guarantee a spot in the Philly Vax Sweepstakes, Philadelphia residents who are at least 18 years old can go to; call 1-877-642-5666 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.; or text “Phillyvax” to 215-608-9799.

Winners will be notified by phone, email or overnight mail, depending on the information in the database, Milkman said. Only those who received their first shot before the drawing date will be eligible.

The lottery is being operated by Pittsburgh-based Universal Promotions Inc.