Republican Ohio lawmaker drafts legislation to derail conservative governor's $5 million vaccination lottery

Republican Ohio lawmaker drafts legislation to derail conservative governor's $5 million vaccination lottery
Mike DeWine in 2018, Wikimedia Commons

Unlike many other Republicans, conservative Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has never downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic — and recently, DeWine has been using a $5 million lottery to encourage Ohio residents to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Five Ohio residents who get vaccinated and enter the lottery will win $1 million. But Rep. Jena Powell, a far-right Republican who serves in the Ohio House of Representatives, is hoping to derail the lottery.

Powell, according to Ohio Capital Journal reporter Tyler Buchanan, has drafted legislation that would end DeWine's Vax-a-Million lottery.

Buchanan reports, "Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans have already signed up for the Vax-A-Million lottery, which will begin May 26 and include five weekly drawings of $1 million prizes. Participants must be at least 18 years old and have received at least their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. There is a separate lottery program for those between the ages of 12 and 17, with the teenage winners receiving a full-ride scholarship to any Ohio college or university."

The $5 million lottery isn't being paid for by Ohio state taxes, but rather, with federal COVID-19 relief funds that have been allocated to the Ohio Department of Health. Nonetheless, Vax-a-Million has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats in the Ohio State Legislature.

Some Ohio Democrats have argued that while DeWine is right to want to get as many Ohio residents vaccinated as possible, he shouldn't have to bribe them with a lottery. Those Democrats share DeWine's goal of widespread vaccination; they just don't think that a lottery is the way to encourage it. Powell, however, comes from the Trumpian school of far-right coronavirus denial — and Powell (an anti-abortion zealot who attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia) vehemently slammed the social distancing measures DeWine pushed in 2020.

"Powell has been among the harshest critics of DeWine's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, repeatedly characterizing his aggressive steps taken to prevent the virus from spreading as curbing Ohioans' freedoms," Buchanan explains. "She has blasted attempts to mitigate the pandemic, from masks to social distancing, and spent much of 2020 undercutting the state health department's messaging — even as the virus raged in her native Darke County late last year."

Buchanan notes that the counties Powell represents in the Ohio House, Darke County and Miami Count, "lag behind the statewide vaccination rate" for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Statewide, 44% of Ohio residents have been at least partially vaccinated compared to only 29% in Darke County and 36% in Miami County.

On Facebook, Powell wrote, "Ohioans don't want giveaways to mask (DeWine's) horrible policy for the past year. They want freedom."

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the deadliest health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919. According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, more than 3.4 million people have died of COVID-19 as May 25. But President Joe Biden and his White House medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, are hoping that if enough U.S. residents are vaccinated for COVID-19, the county will achieve some type of herd immunity. Nationwide, more than half of U.S. residents have been at least partially vaccinated for the novel coronavirus.

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