Days after Maryland’s vaccine lottery ended, the state is launching yet another initiative to convince more Marylanders to get inoculated against COVID-19, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.
The initiative, a partnership between the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland Higher Education Commission, will award a total of 20 Maryland students $50,000 scholarships, which is equivalent to the full cost of tuition and fees at a Maryland state university — though any winners who eventual decide to go out-of-state or attend a private college will be allowed to transfer the scholarship.
The program aims to make the vaccine more appealing to both teenagers and their parents. The age group has only been able to receive shots for the past two months, ever since the Food and Drug Administration issued emergency authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds to get the two-dose Pfizer shot. Previously, the shot was approved for ages 16 and up.
So far, more than 318,000 Marylanders up to the age of 19 have received at least their first shot.
Vaccine hesitancy among young people is not as strong “as we’re seeing in most places around the country,” Hogan said, adding that he hopes the program will encourage teenagers who just “need a little extra incentive” to receive the shot.
The $1 million will be drawn from American Rescue Plan funds, unlike funds for the vaccine lottery, which came from the Maryland Lottery’s marketing budget. The scholarship money will be kept in either a Prepaid College Trust, for those ages 12-14 at the time of the drawing, or College Investment Plan, for those 15-17, from Maryland 529, an independent state agency that provides college savings plans.
Two winners will be selected weekly through Labor Day, at which point four winners will be chosen.
The so-called “VaxU” initiative will mirror the lottery campaign, which was known as “VaxCash,” selecting winners through a random number generator. As with the lottery program, children between the ages of 12 and 17 need only get the vaccine to be entered into the contest — those who have already been inoculated will also be entered.
VaxCash distributed a total of $2 million to Marylanders who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, awarding a Baltimore resident, who chose to remain anonymous, the $400,000 grand prize on the Fourth of July.
Hogan did not provide evidence on Wednesday that VaxCash had been successful at increasing turnout for the vaccine, although he did say that vaccinations “ramped up” after the VaxCash initiative was announced.
“It was getting harder and harder to get people out and we saw a bump after announcing that program,” he said. “Hopefully (we’ll) have the same success with our younger people.”
University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman applauded the program, both for its goal of persuading young people to get vaccinated (Perman is a practicing pediatrician), and for the state’s choice to partner with university schools.
“I cannot imagine a better incentive than a covered college tuition,” Perman said. “And yes, I’d be derelict in my duties as chancellor if I didn’t say that I hope the scholarships lead to more Maryland students to discover one of the university system’s 12 institutions.”
Perman announced in April that all university system employees and students would be required to be vaccinated to attend school in the fall.
Overall, Maryland’s vaccination rate is higher than the nation’s average, with 75.2% of the state’s adults having received their first dose, as compared to 67.1% nationwide. June data from the Department of Health showed the effectiveness of the vaccine, with 100% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, 95% of its cases and 93% of its hospitalizations that month occurring in unvaccinated people.
Additionally, the Delta variant, a highly transmissible form of the virus that has reignited concern about a possible spike, has been detected in only 64 cases in Maryland, Jinlene Chan, the state’s deputy secretary for public health services, said on Wednesday. The variant is now the most pervasive strain of the virus in the United States, but this is not the case in Maryland, she said.