Durham high school student explains why vaccine lottery could backfire in the long run
The first two winners were just announced in North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccine lottery. But while the $1 million and $125,000 prizes are going to two very lucky (and admittedly, very deserving) individuals, the lottery itself runs counter to our values as a society and a state.
The new lottery, similar to those in states like California, Ohio and Colorado, was designed to decrease vaccine hesitancy in North Carolina. As of now, only 52% of North Carolinians are fully vaccinated . The prize aims to speed up efforts to meet President Biden’s goal of a 70% vaccination rate by randomly handing out four $1 million prizes and four $125,000 college scholarships. People who have received vaccinations are automatically entered.
But where is this money coming from? The lottery is using federal COVID-19 relief funds , money that could go to safely reopening schools, rebuilding our broken infrastructure and helping families put food on the table. All of these efforts would improve the lives of large numbers of people, but the lottery is improving the lives of only eight.
Our state especially should know the consequences of misusing money. Between 2009 and 2020, North Carolina didn’t take advantage of economic growth, failing to expand social programs and adequately support the poor. The result? One out of seven North Carolina residents were in poverty when COVID-19 hit , and despite having the 12th largest economy, North Carolina has the 13th highest poverty rate  in the nation.
Furthermore, an individual only has to have received one dose of the vaccine to be entered in the lottery. And at a time when 8% of adults are skipping their second dose , the lottery’s halfhearted attempts could have real consequences.
Rather than identifying more effective and beneficial ways to improve vaccination rates–such as expanding access to transportation or mandating paid leave for workers going to get vaccinated–North Carolina went with a lottery, which has only improved vaccination rates by 1%  despite having been announced weeks ago.
And while lawmakers have approved a lottery, they’re also passing bills to restrict vaccination mandates.  Playing the government’s hand one day and tying its hands the next won’t help our state do the best it can to stop COVID-19.
However, the lottery’s diversion of funds isn’t even the main issue.
It is our duty to get vaccinated, to protect ourselves and the people around us from a disease that has killed millions. The government should not be paying us to do something we should be doing on our own. Instead, North Carolina is breaking the already tenuous bond between our government and its people. It is undermining the implicit understanding that we as citizens have an obligation to do what’s best for our nation. That we as people have an obligation to do what’s best for our family, friends and neighbors. Or, to put it even more plainly, that we as human beings have an innate incentive to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Why should we need another incentive from our government?
Public confidence in the government is already at an all time low, and bribing citizens to get the vaccine isn’t exactly a trust-building endeavor.
The lottery might encourage more people to get vaccinated, but it sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Citizens shouldn’t expect money from their governments for doing a service for themselves and their neighbors, or, in other words, for being good citizens.
A COVID vaccine lottery might seem like a one-time event, but soon, we may start to see calls for lotteries encouraging people to vote, to go to school, or even to get their tail lights repaired. Even if these calls don’t manifest into real lotteries, they will still make a permanent mark on the way our citizens see our government–what its responsibilities are, what role it should play in future crises, what its relationship with its people should be. Once we’ve opened this can of worms, we can’t go back as easily as we might think. And when the time comes, we’re not going to have $5.7 billion dollars in COVID recovery funds  to handle the burden for us.
Mukta Dharmapurikar is a rising senior at Durham Academy who has varied interests in politics, international relations, economics, and neuroscience. She is the founder of the STEM education nonprofit Ever Curious .