Albertans who receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine before the province reaches the 70 per cent milestone for first-dose immunizations will be eligible to win $1 million.
In a Twitter video Saturday evening, Premier Jason Kenney announced the lottery as an incentive to reach the threshold, which is needed to transition in the third and final stage of the province’s reopening plan.
“We’re not getting enough demand right now,” Kenney said in the video.
He was standing inside the Edmonton Expo Centre, one of the province’s drop-in immunization centres, on Saturday afternoon, and said no one was turning up for a shot.
“Alberta residents over the age of 18 who have received at least one dose of vaccine can register to be entered in the draw for the $1 million dollar prize,” the province said in a news release following Kenney’s tweet.
While Kenney wasn’t clear in his video, the premier’s office later clarified that anyone over 18 would qualify. Any Albertan who received their first shot outside the province is also eligible, provided they’ve submitted proof of their vaccine to Alberta Health Services, and meet all other criteria.
The government said in order to qualify, people must be over the age of 18, reside in Alberta at the time of the draw, and be able to provide proof of having received their shot before the draw.
In the news release, Kenney said the lottery would help Alberta reach the 70 per cent benchmark, “so we can open, and stay open.”
“Albertans have already responded in such a big way to our vaccine program and we’ve been able to lift many health restrictions because of their efforts,” he said.
“We just need one final push so we can lift them all and get back to normal. If you’ve been waiting to book, or you’ve been looking for a reason get the shot, here it is.”
As of Saturday, 68.5 per cent of those eligible had received their first dose of vaccine, and 19.2 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and over were fully immunized with two doses.
The premier’s office said with 64,535 first-dose appointments booked in the next seven days, it’s expected the province will reach the 70 per cent mark on June 18, starting the two-week countdown to Stage 3.
In his video, Kenney said the draw for the first $1-million prize will be made on the day the province launches Stage 3 of the Open for Summer plan, “to celebrate getting life back to normal.”
“You know that many places around the world have launched similar lotteries like this because we need to just nudge those who haven’t gotten around to getting their vaccines yet,” Kenney said in the video.
“After all, we’ve had to spend billions of dollars in our health-care system and through supporting people through the past 16 tough months. So if we can just keep pushing up those numbers of people who are vaccinated, that will easily pay for itself in future savings by offering this Open for Summer lottery.
“So please do your part. Because now, a vaccine shot is also your shot at $1 million.”
The Opposition’s health critic told Global News on Sunday that the lottery is something he “can generally support.”
“I don’t have an issue with it,” David Shepherd said. “We’ve seen it be successful in other jurisdictions.
“I think, obviously, any steps we can take to get more people to go ahead and get the COVID-19 vaccine — it’s scientifically proven it’s safe and it’s our best path forward to getting us to a life of more normality out of this pandemic.”
Shepherd said while he is supportive of the vaccine lottery idea, he believes “it’s unfortunate that this comes after the premier sort of took so long to move on so many other ways that we could have been working to see more people vaccinated at an earlier time.”
“There was quite a delay in the premier bringing out a pro-vaccination campaign,” he said. “We asked the premier about that back in January and we did not see that campaign actually roll out until — I believe — last month.
“We’ve also seen doctors and others in front-line health-care positions who have been advocating with this government since about March for them to dedicate more vaccines for temporary or pop-up clinics… to go out in communities that have been hard hit. We’ve seen the government begin to move on that, but they waited until quite late in the game.”
Dr. Noel Gibney, a critical care physician and co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s pandemic response committee, said he thought it was a “great idea.”
“It’s time to get those last few individuals who are on the fence off the fence, and get them vaccinated,” he said.
“The only thing that I think will be very important is to see how does one become eligible? Do you have to actually register yourself? Or better still would be, I think, if you’re simply vaccinated, that people can go onto the provincial database and be automatically registered… That would be the fairest. Otherwise I think a lot of older people may not be registered.”
The premier’s office said details on how to register for the first lottery prize will be announced on Monday, June 14.
The premier said more details will come in the days ahead on how to enter the lottery online, as well as the second and third $1-million draws to happen later in the summer.
Gibney said he hopes the lottery is used as a tool to encourage second-dose vaccinations as well.
“I think the government is on the right track here, but I really think it’s important they put as much effort into getting people their second doses as they’re now putting appropriately into the first doses,” he said.
“I really believe that is very important, particularly with this Delta variant… that everyone gets fully immunized with two shots. Ideally, by the end of summer.
“That way… we can avoid a significant fourth wave.”
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich