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Kentucky Hands Out First $1 Million Vaccine Prize, Scholarships

Josh James

A Lexington woman is the first to take home $1 million through Kentucky’s COVID-19 vaccination incentive sweepstakes. While the first round of prizes will take the pressure off financially for the first six winners, questions remain about how effective the program has been in swaying residents to get vaccinated.

Patricia Short of Lexington said she and her family were among the first to line up for a COVID-19 vaccine. Now they’re walking away with more than protection from a virus.

"We were on our way to Florida when COVID hit, and we just wanted to get home. They were talking about how great Kentucky was doing all over because of our governor,” Short said. “We are firm believers that we have to do it – please get vaccinated. Our kids have got to be vaccinated, too, or it’s not going to work.”

Also smiling are five younger Kentuckians from Elizabethtown, Crestwood, Mt. Sterling, Princeton, and Louisville who now have full ride college scholarship, mostly thanks to their parents putting their names in the hat.

"I woke up miserable—I have to go to work and everything. And then my mom says the governor's on the phone and I'm like what is happening right now?" 17-year-old high school senior Jalen Crudup said, recounting the moments before he found out.

Another high school senior, Adison Sullenger, told reporters she can now "go to nursing school and give back to my community from just getting a vaccine, and I get to go for free."

None of the winners interviewed, however, cited the giveaway as their reason for getting the shot. The state estimates about 120,000 Kentuckians were vaccinated between the announcement of the sweepstakes and the first drawing—a fraction of the numbers seen early in the rollout.

Gov. Andy Beshear ackowledged it’s hard to pin down just how influential the giveaway has been, but he said he has "no doubt" the state's vaccination rate would be lower without it. 

"Our goal is to grind it out," the Democrat said, "and if that's 16, 000, 20,000 a week over and over and over again, we'll get there."

The state did hit a new milestone Friday with 2.2 million—or half the state’s population—vaccinated.

And the sweepstakes could gather more steam in the coming weeks, now that winners have been announced. The remaining incentive drawings are set for July 29 and August 26. Those already entered for the first drawing are automatically entered in the future giveaways.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.