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Editorial: SC needs to think boldly on vaccinations

Top South Carolina Democrat wants $1M vaccine lottery prize (copy)

People walk past sign displayed for Ohio's COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic at Cleveland State University, Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Cleveland. Nearly 2.8 million residents have registered for Ohio's Vax-a-Million vaccination incentive program, with participants hoping to win either the $1 million prize for adults or a full-ride college scholarship for children, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday, May 24. The winners will be announced Wednesday night at the end of the Ohio Lottery's Cash Explosion TV show, and then each Wednesday for the next four weeks.

This past weekend was full of encouraging signs that our nation, state and communities are bouncing back to life after more than a year of disruption due to the pandemic, and all signs are that will continue this summer. At least for those adults who have received their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Unfortunately, South Carolina still lags below the national average in terms of the percentage of its eligible residents who have received those shots, and we would encourage state lawmakers and Gov. Henry McMaster to get more creative as far as encouraging the remaining holdouts.

It might not be the solution here, but we admire Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's ingenuity in offering five $1 million lotteries for state residents who get their jabs. As he explained recently in The New York Times, Mr. DeWine said he considered gift cards, direct payments and free sports tickets before ultimately settling on the bold and unconventional idea of a lottery.

"We needed something aspirational to generate excitement and motivate those on the fence to get vaccinated now," he wrote. "I remembered a quote from Bill Veeck, the former Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox owner: 'To give one can of beer to a thousand people is not nearly as much fun as to give 1,000 cans of beer to one guy.'"

He also correctly notes that the lottery's cost, about $5.6 million to run five drawings that each offered a $1 million prize, pales in comparison to the millions of dollars in health care costs, lost productivity and lost lives. "The results have exceeded my wildest expectations. Since the announcement, available data suggests that shots are up 49% among people ages 16 and over in Ohio and have increased 36% among minorities and 65% among Ohioans living in rural areas. Vaccinations among 16- and 17-year-olds have increased 94%."

Those who defend our nation's federalist system agree with former U.S. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis when he famously called states "laboratories of democracy;" it sounds like Ohio did a big experiment others can learn from.

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To its credit, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is working with S.C. Parks, Recreation & Tourism on an initiative where state parks will host vaccine clinics and offer free admission to that park for the day. Another "shot and a beer" incentive plan — which would offer vaccinations at assorted breweries across the state — is in the works in cooperation with the S.C. Brewers Guild. And the agency is contacting local festivals and minor league baseball teams about similar events.

Admirable as they are, we think the state should consider going bolder still. Early on, the city of Charleston decided to offer $50 to every one of its employees who got vaccinated. City leaders justified the potential $89,000 expenditure by noting the city insures itself for employees’ health care and has an interest knowing which departments' employees are more or less vulnerable to COVID. It estimates about 60% of its workforce is vaccinated.

A lottery ultimately might not be the answer here. Certainly, South Carolina resisted lotteries for a long time, until about two decades ago, when it joined many neighboring states in creating the S.C. Lottery system to support education and scholarships. "It is clear that a moral residue still clings to the idea of using mere 'chance' as a mechanism to promote the public good," historian Anders Bright recently wrote in The Washington Post. "Although the scheme in Ohio has clearly been a success, as demonstrated by more people getting vaccinated, this is why critics still view it as a non-rational method of achieving a desired public goal."

South Carolina and almost every other Southern state still lag behind the national average in terms of those 12 and older who have been vaccinated. DHEC's public health director Dr. Brannon Traxler noted South Carolina is nearing the mark where half of its 12 and older population is vaccinated, but added, "We acknowledge that we have a lot more work to do. ... The vaccine is how we end this pandemic and get back to our normal lives."

In that light, South Carolina has a powerful incentive to create more incentives to convince even more people to get the shot. And while a lottery might strike some as an unseemly step, our state's leaders are also taking a gamble if they do too little.

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