James M. Berklan

The last word one might ever think of pairing with “COVID-19” could be “carnival.”

Yet that’s the vibe over some of the latest activities regarding the dangerous novel coronavirus. Perhaps most importantly, we are now at a time when your residents can be winners, not just victims, because of this invisible menace.

From state governments to pharmacy providers, prizes are being dangled before anyone who steps up to get vaccinated against COVID-19. While some might call getting the jab a basic civic responsibility that deserves no reward other than the satisfaction of improving public health for all, we’ll settle for calling the latest inducements well-intended bribes and leave it at that.

The set-up is get a shot to … get a shot — at cash prizes, trips, gift cards and more. On Wednesday, we heard about the state of Ohio’s first Vax-a-Million prize winner, 22-year-old Abbigail Bugenske. The recent college grad will pocket $1 million (or at least the post-tax proceeds) after having her name drawn from a pool of vaccinated Ohioans. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Joseph Costello won a college scholarship for the same reason. Ohio will pick four more pairs of winners on each of the next four Wednesdays.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) dramatic program to increase low vaccination rates has inspired similar incentive programs in at least five other states: Oregon, New York, Maryland, Colorado and California.

The last joined the party on Thursday, when Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced a whopping $116.5 million prize program that includes a $50 gift card for each of the next two million vaccinated people. In addition, there will be 30 winners of $50,000 each and 10 who will be randomly chosen to win $1.5 million each.

On Thursday, we also learned of another eye-opening giveaway that expressly named long-term care residents as eligible prize winners. CVS Health’s expansive new sweepstakes seeks to reward those who have received shots through its clinics. That would include thousands of long-term care residents and workers. CVS, the parent company of LTC pharmacy giant Omnicare, has the most varied gift list we’ve seen. Its #OneStepCloser sweepstakes offers more than 1,000 prizes through six weekly drawings.

Like the Ohio program, eligible would-be winners have to opt in. That’s where providers can help their residents dream a little.

The prize pool includes 125 gifts of $500, five family reunion packages worth $5,000 each, 100 week-long cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe or elsewhere, a VIP trip for two to the Super Bowl, a 2022 Package to the NCAA Final Four basketball championship, trips to Bermuda, trips to festivals and overseas destinations and … well, you get the idea.

The CVS entry period starts Tuesday (June 1) and stretches to July 10. Enterprising administrators and activities directors could ease memories of a year of lukewarm meals served in styrofoam containers in lonely isolation, if they get their lists of CVS-vaccinated patients entered at www.cvs.com/onestepclosersweeps. (With each patient’s permission, of course.) 

After more than a year on lockdown, this could be the ingredients of great dreams and dinner table discussions — whether or not any resident ultimately wins. That said, with so many long-term care residents vaccinated through CVS government-sponsored clinics, the odds have to be in favor of at least a few popping up … as long as their names are entered.

Long-term care staffers (and even CVS / Omnicare employees) are eligible to enter this sweepstakes. Granted, it’s not as if the pharmacy giant is doing this merely out of patriotic duty. But, hey, each extra arm that gets a jab should help us all breathe a little easier. A recent study showed that vaccinations have helped those who have gotten the shot as well as those who haven’t.

If that’s not reason for a carnival feeling, I don’t know what is. It’s time to let those interested in celebrating — and dreaming of a potential vaccine lottery windfall — do their thing. They’ve earned it.

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.