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Not buying it: Oregon vaccination rates plummet despite million dollar lottery

Just two weeks after Gov. Kate Brown announced Oregon was giving away a million dollars to get residents vaccinated, fewer residents are rolling up their sleeves for a shot.

Updated: June 5, 2021 - 11:15pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Oregon is giving away a million dollars to get residents vaccinated, but fewer Oregonians are rolling up their sleeves for a shot by the day.

On May 21, Gov. Kate Brown announced the state would randomly select one vaccinated Oregonian for a $1 million prize by the end of June. That day, 14,943 people received a COVID-19 vaccination shot. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reports those numbers have been falling ever since the announcement.

Daily vaccination rates in Oregon have hovered around 12,000 shots for the past three weeks, well below what the state reported before news of the lottery. Vaccination data from the OHA shows 23,506 people got their first COVID shot on May 18. On May 19, that number fell to 17,347 people. On May 20, it was 21,553 people. The state saw its lowest number of first-time vaccine recipients in four months, 4,885 people, on June 1.

Those vaccination numbers buck national trends. States hosting similar lotteries like Ohio to New York have both seen double-digit spikes in vaccination rates since announcing their contests. When asked by reporters about those numbers during a virtual Friday news conference, Brown said the state's vaccine rollout continues to see progress.

The OHA reports that 66.2% of Oregonians had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday. Based on those numbers, the state is 127,308 people away from Brown's 70% vaccination rate she requires before for fully reopening.

Oregon has a complicated relationship with vaccines. The state boasts the highest rate of non-medical vaccine exemptions at the kindergarten level in the nation. In the 2017-2018 school year, 7.6% of Oregon's kindergartners were exempt from at least one vaccine. No COVID-19 vaccine is yet approved by the FDA for children ages 12 and younger.

On Friday, Brown made a case for Oregonians to get vaccinated by teasing what they could look forward to once the state fully reopened. Brown confirmed she would remove the state's Risk Tiers along with capacity limits, social distancing and face mask orders. Private businesses will be allowed to require face masks or proof of vaccination if they choose.

Face masks will be required at airports, public transit, and health care settings under federal rules. Brown said on Thursday that she expects schools to be taught in person next fall as they have since April. COVID guidelines like face masks will remain in place so long as COVID vaccines remain unapproved for most children.

Brown's 70% vaccination target is based on speculation among scientists that the number could be the point at which Oregon reaches "herd immunity" or the stage at which viral transmission slows. There is no universal consensus on the vaccination rate it could take to achieve herd immunity.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests infections could continue to rise if current health restrictions were entirely lifted. The study noted infection rates declined among populations, 75% of whom were vaccinated.

On Thursday, the OHA reported 267 new cases and seven new deaths from the virus, raising Oregon's total caseload to 202,247 and the death toll to 2,683 people.

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