The first Ohio vaccine lottery winners speak out

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The inaugural winner of the first $ 1 million Vax-a-Million Vaccination Award in Ohio was visiting her family in the suburbs of Cleveland when she received a call about the good news – from Governor Mike DeWine .

A few minutes later Abbigail Bugenske was at her parents’ house, screaming so loudly that they thought she was crying.

“A whirlwind,” said the 22-year-old Bugenske on Thursday morning during a press conference. “It’s absolutely not yet processed. I’m still digesting it – and I want to say that it feels like this is happening to someone else. I can’t believe it.”

Bugenske is a mechanical engineer and works for GE Aviation in the suburbs of Cincinnati. She has no plans to quit her job. She grew up in Shaker Heights, near Cleveland, and graduated from Michigan State University in 2020. She said she plans to donate to charity but then invest most of it.

She was on her way to Cleveland to see used cars when she got the floor, she said, adding, “I think buying a used car is still in my future.”

The full scholarship winner was eighth grader Joseph Costello of Englewood near Dayton.

“Very excited,” said Costello as he sat between his parents, Colleen and Rich, during the virtual press conference. Although there is still a long way to go, Joseph said he was thinking of Ohio State or Miami of Ohio for college.

Colleen Costello said she got the call from the governor when she left work on Wednesday. At first she thought it was a recording, then she realized it was DeWine himself.

“I was really grateful at that moment that there was a bench nearby because I had to sit down,” she said.

DeWine and his wife Fran DeWine visited the Costello family in person on the Wednesday following the announcement. He said he only knew the names of the winners just before calling.

“Calling someone up and telling them they won a million dollars is a great thing, and calling a family and telling them they got a four-year scholarship is fun too,” the governor said.

Bugenske said she received the Moderna vaccine as soon as she was eligible, long before the lottery was announced. The Costellos said they were already vaccinated and planned to have their children vaccinated by the end of the month, but the lottery announcement inspired them to reschedule those dates.

During a scheduled visit to Cleveland Thursday, President Joe Biden said, “Ohio has a new millionaire! I’m telling you who, who would say a million dollars to get a vaccine? But it works.”

More than 2.7 million adults have signed up for the $ 1 million prize, and more than 104,000 children ages 12-17 have entered the college scholarship prize draw, which includes tuition, room and board and includes books. Four more $ 1 million and college scholarship winners will be announced every Wednesday for the next four weeks.

DeWine, a Republican, announced the program on May 12 to increase declining vaccination rates.

The Ohio Lottery ran the first drawing on Monday afternoon at their Cleveland drawing studio using a random number generator to pre-select winners and then confirmed the eligibility of the final winner.

Participants must register to participate by phone or via the Vax-a-Million website. Young people can register, but parents or guardians must check their eligibility. The names of those who do not win will be announced week after week. The deadline for new registrations ends on Sunday shortly before midnight.

“I know some might say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This multi-million dollar drawing idea of ​​yours is a waste of money,'” said the governor when he announced the incentive. But with the vaccine now readily available, the real waste is “a life lost to COVID-19,” the governor said.

The concept seemed to work, at least initially. The number of people in Ohio aged 16 and over who received their first COVID-19 vaccine rose 33% in the week after the state announced its million dollar incentive lottery, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

However, the same review also found that vaccination rates are still well below the levels seen in early April and March.

More than 5.2 million people in Ohio had started the vaccination process by at least Monday, which is about 45% of the state. About 4.6 million people are vaccinated, which is 39% of the state. Nationwide, more than 165 million Americans have started the vaccination process, which is roughly 50% of the population. More than 131 million are fully vaccinated, or nearly 40%.

Vax-a-Million is open to permanent residents of Ohio who received either the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in one dose or their first portion of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in two doses.

DeWine’s proposal inspired similar vaccination incentive lotteries in Colorado, Maryland, New York State, and Oregon.

In Colorado, Democratic Governor Jared Polis says the state will hold a weekly lottery for five residents to win $ 1 million on Tuesday to incentivize COVID-19 vaccinations. Colorado is providing $ 5 million in federal coronavirus aid that would have been used to advertise vaccines to five residents for $ 1 million each.

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