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caption: A sign reads 'Today! Free Covid-19 Vaccine' outside of a vaccine clinic for students over the age of 12 on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
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A sign reads 'Today! Free Covid-19 Vaccine' outside of a vaccine clinic for students over the age of 12 on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Is the 'Shot of a Lifetime' lottery nudging people to get vaccinated? Maybe

Earlier today, a vaccinated Washingtonian was contacted by state lottery officials and told they’d won a $250,000 prize. It was the first drawing for multiple prizes meant to motivate people to get their coronavirus shots.

At the same time, there have been problems with the state's vaccination database. KUOW’s Eilís O’Neill gave Kim Malcolm this update.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Kim Malcolm: I've heard it's not easy to access the database. Can you tell us what kinds of problems people are running into?

Eilis O’Neill: Yes, the website is awful. It keeps timing out on people. It's super glitchy. The first time I tried it, it took me half an hour to get through it, then I got an error message.

The second time, it took me 45 minutes to get through it. The second problem is that some people who are in the database can't find themselves at all. That is usually fixable. It's usually because the state is missing your phone number, or your address, or maybe there was a typo in your record somewhere. You can call the state's vaccine hotline, and they'll help you straighten that out.

The third problem is that some people aren't in the database at all, even though they live in Washington, and they got their vaccine here.

They're not in the database at all. What is going on with that?

Most of those people are veterans who got their shots at the VA, or members of the military who got their shots directly from the Department of Defense because the feds aren't sharing that data with Washington State.

People can't fix this for themselves. There's no way to add your record to the database if it’s missing. If you're in this situation and you want to be included in the lottery, then you have to jump through these enormous steps. You have to go to another healthcare provider who's not the VA or the Department of Defense, and have them pull up your vaccine record and enter it into the state's database for you.

As you can imagine, that is a huge headache. The state is theoretically working on a more global solution, trying to pull in all those missing names, but there is no timeline for when that might be resolved.

It kind of shows that there are some bigger issues beyond the lottery. That could be a problem if the state database is incomplete or inaccurate.

It could. If you're an individual — beyond the lottery — it shouldn't matter too much. There are other ways to prove you are vaccinated, say to an employer or for international travel. You can use your vaccine card or a photo of your vaccine card, but it does mean that we actually don't know exactly what percentage of Washington State residents are vaccinated because we're missing a bunch of records.

Speaking of the percentage of people who are vaccinated, is the lottery actually helping with that? Is it really nudging people to get their shot?

Maybe. State health officials say they're seeing some initial signs of that. There have been more calls to the state vaccination hotline asking about appointments. Some clinics are filling up. The state is going to look at the numbers next week and try to run the counterfactual on what would have happened if the lottery hadn't existed. So, how many people did the lottery motivate to get vaccinated?

June 30 is the date when Governor Inslee says Washington will fully reopen. I remember the governor underlining this message for people who are beyond tired of restrictions, that reopening could come sooner if we hit a 70% vaccination rate before the end of the month. What are the chances right now of that happening?

If it does happen, it won't be much before June 30. The governor said a couple of days ago he doesn't think we'll hit it before June 30. State health officials said today they do think we might, but maybe only a little bit before.

Where we are right now is that about 64% of Washington state residents 16 and older have gotten at least their first Covid shot. We're really close, but it's not moving much. Not many new people are getting new shots every day.

What we do know is that people who have been vaccinated are really helping slow the spread of Covid in the state. The number of new cases per day has dropped pretty sharply since the last peak at the end of April. That said, there are still hundreds of new cases every day in Washington. The vast majority of those are in people who have not yet been vaccinated.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.