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Could Utah pay people who get vaccinated? Gov. Cox says he’s exploring the idea.

Utah’s governor says there’s “no amount of money that is too much to help us get an extra 5% or 10% of people vaccinated.”

(Laura Seitz | Deseret News, pool) Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Could Utahns who get vaccinated against COVID-19 become eligible to win $1 million from the state?

That’s what’s happening in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced this week — and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday that he had already been exploring something similar in the Beehive State.

While state lawmakers approved a bill earlier this year prohibiting any government agency from mandating the shots, Cox noted at his weekly news conference that there’s “nothing that says we can’t incentivize people to get vaccinated.”

He said he’s been consulting with Utahns, behavioral scientists, governors and public health officials to figure out, “What can we do? What things will work to help incentivize people who are on the fence [about getting their shot]?”

Some states have given out fishing or hunting licenses or free beer to people who get their shots. The private sector has also encouraged people to get inoculated, such as Krispy Kreme’s offer of free doughnuts for a year to anyone who gets vaccinated, Cox added.

“But there was a very interesting announcement yesterday that came out of Ohio where they announced a drawing for $1 million dollars — five drawings, actually — for people who have been vaccinated as a way to encourage people to get the vaccines,” the governor said. “This is something I’m very interested in.”

There are no raffles or gambling allowed under state law, but Cox stressed that this wouldn’t fall into that category.

”People aren’t paying into it; it’s not a lottery,” he said. “As I’ve often said, lotteries are taxes on people that are bad at math. That is not this.”

As vaccine demand has dropped in recent weeks, Cox said he’s been working with the Legislature to come up with “new and innovative ideas” to get people vaccinated. The $1 million raffle is “one of those ideas” and is “something that I support,” he said.

“We’re having our legal teams look at it and we will be meeting with the Legislature to get their buy-in,” Cox said. “Obviously, they would have to appropriate the funds for this. But there is no amount of money that is too much to help us get an extra 5% or 10% of people vaccinated when you look at the damage that has happened to our economy, to our nation because of this pandemic.”

He’d want any state incentive to be offered to everyone who’s gotten their vaccine, he noted, not just those opting in now.

Utah lawmakers will meet in a special session next week to accept more than $1.5 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus money, and it’s possible the funding for some kind of lottery could come from that bucket.

As of Thursday, 42.8% of all Utahns have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 33.8% are fully inoculated against the virus, according to data from the state Department of Health.

In the day since Ohio’s governor announced the $1 million lottery, some Utahns have taken to Twitter to provide ideas for what might incentivize people to get their shot in the Beehive State.

Responses to Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke’s query ran from the serious — like Utah Jazz tickets, guaranteed camping reservations or free ski passes — to the silly — like “a lifetime supply of Crown Burger fry sauce” or of green Jell-O, or a meet-and-greet with Marie Osmond, a member of one of Utah’s most famous families.

Cox indicated Thursday that he was open to suggestions for incentives and encouraged Utahns to “send them our way.”

“I’m very excited to hear what ideas come forward and see if we can’t do more to push us up towards 70% and 80%, 90% vaccinations,” he said.

But the governor also said he hopes that most people don’t need an extrinsic motivator and will get their shot because it’s the right thing to do.

“It protects them and protects their families and protects their neighbors, protects our economy,” he said. “It’s safe, and it’s the thing that we’ve been waiting for. So please, please, please don’t wait.”

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