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How do I get cash prizes from California’s $116-million COVID vaccine lottery?

A teenage girl is vaccinated.
Carla Mendez, 17, receives a COVID-19 vaccination shot administered by Esther Uraih, a licensed nurse, at Esteban Torres High School on Thursday.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

California has announced $116.5 million in prizes for people who have or will receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The idea of the “Vax for the Win” program is to increase interest in vaccinations — a critical step to keeping disease rates low and continuing to allow schools and the economy to reopen.

Here’s how the program works.

California will offer what appears to be the largest COVID-19 incentive in the nation: the chance for 10 residents to win $1.5 million apiece.

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What are the largest prizes?

There will be $1.5-million cash prizes given out to 10 winners, who will be selected on June 15.

There will also be $50,000 cash prizes given out to 30 winners, half of whom will be selected on June 4 and the remainder on June 11.

Who is eligible for the $1.5-million and $50,000 prizes?

With certain exceptions, all California residents — regardless of immigration status — who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose will be eligible for these prizes.

There are some people who are ineligible, such as incarcerated people and some public employees, such as workers of the California Department of Public Health, California State Lottery, California Health and Human Services Agency, the Government Operations Agency, the governor’s office, and their immediate families.

Do you need to register to be considered in the drawing?

No. Any California resident who has received at least one vaccine dose is automatically registered; vaccination records are filed with the state’s vaccine registry.

Am I ineligible because I already got vaccinated months ago?

Don’t fret. Even if you were among the earliest recipients of the vaccine back in December, you’re eligible for the drawings of $1.5 million and $50,000.

How will the drawing be done?

The California Department of Public Health “will provide a list of random number identifiers representing each eligible participant — identifiers that can only be connected with persons’ identities by [the department] — to the California Lottery, which will conduct the random drawing using standard practices applicable to drawings that ensure randomness and integrity of the draw. The California Lottery will then transmit the selected numbers back to [the department], which will identify and contact the selected persons.”

Are the winners names’ made public?

Only if the winners want to be identified.

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Can prospective winners decline the prize?

Yes.

How will I be contacted if I’m a prospective winner?

The California Department of Public Health will try to contact you by phone. If they can’t reach you on the first try, they will try again, repeatedly, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. But if you can’t be reached within 96 hours after the first attempt at contact, they may drop you and move on to the next eligible prospective winner.

What if a minor wins?

The winnings will go into a savings account, and the child will be able to gain control of the funds when they turn 18.

What other prizes are available?

California residents who begin to get vaccinated starting on or after Thursday are eligible for a $50 prepaid card or a $50 grocery card for supermarkets like Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, Safeway and Andronico’s.

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There are 2 million gift cards available. Incarcerated persons are not eligible.

How do you claim the $50 card?

You’ll get a redemption code by text or email within seven to 10 days after the last vaccination. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, spread apart by several weeks; the Johnson & Johnson shot requires only one shot.)

If you don’t have a mobile phone or email address, call (833) 993-3873 to get a physical card seven to 10 days after your vaccination. If you don’t have a permanent address, call the same number to coordinate delivery of the card.

How is this being paid for?

The cash for the vaccination incentive program will come from California’s general fund, a budget spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom said. State tax revenues are projected to exceed earlier estimates by more than $75 billion by next summer, allowing the governor and lawmakers to fund a variety of programs.

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Newsom intends to tap into money set aside for pandemic disaster relief and later replenish that account with a portion of the state’s $27-billion share of federal COVID-19 relief funds recently approved by Congress and President Biden.

Is this a waste of money?

Officials say it’s an imperative public policy objective to increase vaccinations as much as possible.

A high vaccination rate will keep people healthy and reduce the risk of outbreaks among unvaccinated people, which will enable schools to continue reopening and the economy to gain steam.

How is California faring on administering vaccines?

About 54% of California residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.

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But officials say there’s need to boost demand.

California has seen its average daily number of vaccine doses administered fall from a peak of 400,000 in early April to 200,000 a day now.

And California still needs to make progress on reducing troubling racial and ethnic disparities in who is getting vaccinated.

What incentive is L.A. County offering?

This week, a pair of season tickets to Kings or Galaxy games is in the mix.

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L.A. County adult residents who get their first vaccine between Friday and June 3 at vaccine sites run by L.A. County, the city of Los Angeles or St. John’s Well Child and Family Center clinic will be eligible for a drawing for a pair of season tickets to the Los Angeles Kings or to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Can I increase my odds if I get vaccinated multiple times?

Aside from its being inadvisable from a health perspective, Newsom emphasized that getting vaccinated beyond the recommended regimen — two doses for Pfizer and Moderna, and one for Johnson & Johnson — will not boost a resident’s odds of winning.

“If you want to get vaccinated again, you think you can have your name in twice, it’s not going to work,” he said. “So don’t go back and get vaccinated again. It won’t make any difference.”


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