SACRAMENTO (CBS SF/AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday unveiled a $116.5 million incentive program that would offer cash prizes to people getting a COVID vaccine, including a $15 million cash prize that would be split between 10 people.
Newsom announced the program as part of California’s push to get millions more inoculated before the most populous U.S. state fully reopens next month, calling it “the most significant incentive program in the United States of America.”READ MORE: Power Plant at Oroville Dam Reservoir Shut Down for First Time Due to Lack of Water
“We are making available the largest prizes of any state in America for those who seek to get vaccinated,” said Newsom.
The state estimates about 12 million Californians 12 and older have not been vaccinated. About 63% of the 34 million eligible have gotten shots, though the pace has slowed markedly in recent weeks as infection rates have plummeted to record lows.
California’s reopening is pegged for June 15, and on that day a drawing will be held to award 10 vaccinated people the top prize .
Another 30 people will win $50,000 each, with those drawings starting June 4. Anyone 12 and older who has already received at least one shot will be eligible. And the next two million people who get vaccinated will get $50 gift cards.
Newsom said Thursday the state is still on track for full reopening on time.
“We are prepared and we believe we’ll be ready for that June 15th reopening, fully, of the economy here in the State of California,” he said.
When asked whether cash incentives were a proper use of public funds, Newsom responded, “The cost of not getting vaccinated is exponentially, incalculably higher.”
New York is raffling 50 full scholarships to children 12 to 17 to public universities and colleges in the state, selecting 10 winners each of the next five Wednesdays.READ MORE: Dixie Fire Update: Buildings Burn In Canyondam; Fire Advance Forces Lassen Volcanic National Park Shut Down
That California is turning to cash prizes to encourage vaccinations marks a major turnaround from earlier this year, when Californians clamored for shots, with some driving or waiting in line for hours to get one.
“Some Californians weren’t ready to get their COVID-19 vaccine on Day One, and that’s OK. This program is designed to encourage those who need extra support to get vaccinated and help keep California safe,” Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, director of the state’s department of public health, said in a statement.
Newsom’s office said the program would be aimed at reaching people in communities hardest hit by the pandemic — mainly the poor, Blacks and Latinos — though it wasn’t immediately clear how the money would be tailored to fit that goal.
California uses a “vaccine equity metric” to track vaccination progress that splits zip codes into four quartiles from least to most advantaged. Nearly half of people in the least advantaged neighborhoods still haven’t been vaccinated, according to the state.
By contrast, less than a quarter of people in the most advantaged areas haven’t been vaccinated.
Among all Latinos, 57% are not yet vaccinated. That’s the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group. Forty% of white Californians are not vaccinated, according to state figures.4
Those who have been vaccinated wonder if an incentive program will change the minds of those reluctant to get the shot.
“I don’t know if it will make that much difference,” said Andrea Ferrance. “It’s kind of like politics — people already have their mind made up.”
Overall, UCSF epidemiologist Dr. George Rutherford says California is on the path to reaching herd immunity. “The state is currently estimating that the proportion of people who are immune in the state is somewhere over 60 percent between naturally-acquired immunity and people that have been vaccinated,” he said.MORE NEWS: Reports of Breakthrough COVID-19 Infections Cause Concern
© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5’s Andrea Nakano and the Associated Press contributed to this report