Missouri's vaccine incentive program is off to a promising start, state health officials say.
As of 7 a.m. Thursday, 78,000 people had registered for the MO VIP incentives program, which provides the opportunity to be one of 900 Missourians to win $10,000 for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
More than 500,000 visited the website Wednesday after Gov. Mike Parson's announcement, Department of Health and Senior Services Communication Director Lisa Cox told reporters.
"That's the most traffic we've seen on the website since February when we were really hitting a huge increase in vaccine demand, and we were also traveling through those tiers of populations who were eligible. So it's really encouraging to see people getting this information," Cox said.
Participants can sign up for the MO VIP incentive program via the online form at covidvaccine.mo.gov. Those without access to the online form can register by calling the COVID-19 hotline at 877-435-8411 from 7:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. weekdays.
To be eligible, Missourians have to have just the first dose of the vaccine, be a U.S. citizen and Missouri resident and be at least 12 years of age.
There are, however, also some restrictions on who can enter.
Current employees or anyone who is in the household of current employees of the Missouri Lottery Commission, DHSS, Treasurer's Office, Governor's Office or the Office of Administration cannot win the incentive prizes.
Also excluded are statewide elected officials and their households, current governor appointees and their households, members of the Missouri General Assembly and their households, U.S. congressmen and their households, and incarcerated individuals with a felony conviction.
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DHSS Acting Director Robert Knodell said the MO VIP program doesn't use an automatic enrollment plan as some other states have because the department wanted to respect Missourians' right to privacy in regards to their immunization records.
"We wanted to make sure that those individuals that have already been vaccinated are consenting for us to verify that information," Knodell said. "We might have looked at that differently, perhaps, if we were simply offering an incentive for those not yet vaccinated so that there would be an implied understanding that they were in this program."
Cox said some Missourians, such as those vaccinated on military bases, through the U.S. Department of Defense or Veterans Affairs, or through some federal retail pharmacy programs, would also be automatically excluded if the state went with an automatic enrollment plan based on state vaccination records.
Adam Crumbliss, director of DHSS Division of Community and Public Health, said consent was an important aspect of the registration planning because the department knows some individuals would like to get the vaccine and not participate in the incentive program.
Crumbliss said registration is working smoothly, based on the data the department has received so far.
"We have not received substantial concern or questions about the ease of that process," Crumbliss said. "We've tried to make it as straightforward and intuitive as possible so that we can make sure that citizens that choose to register have the ability to do it quickly, effectively and then know they are in the opportunity to see a prize."
The registration website did experience some brief interruptions Wednesday for about 10 minutes after the announcement. Users may have received an error message upon submitting their registration information, Cox said, which was a result of too many people trying to submit the form. IT worked to spread the users out on server space to resolve the issue.
The likelihood of winning the $10,000 is dependent upon participation within each of the three categories and the state's congressional districts as 10 names are drawn from each district in the red and white categories each drawing.
"We hope that's an inducement for individuals in those more vaccine-hesitant areas that may have fewer participants, fewer entries to have that chance and to, again, give vaccination a fresh look," Knodell said.
Missourians age 18 or older vaccinated after July 21 are in the red category, while those vaccinated before July 21 are in the white category and Missourians ages 12-17 vaccinated at any time are in the blue category.
The white category will start with a larger pool of participants — and worse odds of winning — than in the red category, Cox said, but the goal of the program is to grow the red category.
The first round of winners from each category 80 from red, 80 from white and 20 from blue will be drawn Aug. 13 and announced Aug. 25.
Between the times of drawing and announcement, the selected winners will go through a verification process to ensure they meet all qualifications.
The Missouri Lottery will conduct the drawing, but the DHSS Bureau of Immunizations will work on verifying the winner's vaccination status, which will start with the state's vaccination registry. If there are outliers, Cox said the department will work with other providers to determine vaccination status and the individual winners who might be required to provide documentation, such as vaccine cards or records, as needed.
Cox said alternates will also be drawn if someone who is not eligible is drawn.
The state will announce the winners, along with their city and county, after verification. A photo is not required to enter or win.
Winnings will be taxed by the state and federal government like regular prize winnings.
Knodell said Missouri looked to vaccine incentive programs in Ohio, Maine, New York and New Jersey in shaping the MO VIP program.
The state is also allowing local public health agencies to offer $25 incentive gift cards, funded through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant money, to individuals who receive the vaccine.