David Leibowitz

There have been many phases in our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – denial, incompetence, surging effectiveness – but this latest development I did not see coming.

We’re now down to bribing people to do the right thing and get vaccinated.

The madness started in early May in Ohio, where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced his state’s Vax-a-Million lottery, which each week awards a cool million bucks and full-ride college scholarships to vaccinated registrants. 

The first winner? Abbigail Bugenske, 22, a Cincinnati resident who plans to donate some of her million bucks to charity, then invest the rest – after splurging on a new ride.

“I think buying a used car is still in my future,” Bugenske said at a press conference.

Clearly, a free million dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to once upon a time.

Other states and businesses quickly started playing Santa in Ohio’s wake. There’s “Colorado Comeback Cash,” Maryland “Vax To Win,” a million-dollar lottery in Oregon and $1.5 million prizes in California, where they’re offering “$50,000 Fridays” to 30 lucky randomly selected winners.

In West Virginia, they’re giving away cash plus two new custom pickup trucks and 10 custom hunting rifles and shotguns.

In New York, they’re giving away free lottery scratcher tickets for a shot at $5 million and free tickets to Mets and Yankees baseball games. 

There’s a thought: Given how abysmal the last-place Diamondbacks are playing, maybe newly vaccinated children can pitch the seventh inning during the upcoming games against the Angels and Giants. 

Random fourth-graders would be much more entertaining than the Dbacks’ current bullpen.

In fairness, here in Arizona we haven’t commenced government giveaways yet, though the private sector has gotten into the act. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 entitles you to a free doughnut at Krispy Kreme, a free sweepstakes entry at CVS pharmacies and 10% off groceries if you get vaccinated at a Safeway, Fry’s or Albertson’s. 

Then there’s Anheuser-Busch, which has teamed up with the White House to offer free beer to 200,000 Americans – provided the nation reaches President Biden’s goal of 70% of U.S. adults with at least one shot in the arm by Independence Day.

“That’s right. Get a shot and have a beer,” Biden announced at a June 2 press conference. “Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus.”

We still have a ways to go: Currently, only 63% of adults have been vaccinated. That means we’re about 20 million adults short of the herd immunity goal. 

Will bribery get us there, when mass education campaigns, social responsibility and social shaming seem to have failed? My guess is, not quite. 

This is America, after all, where you can never underestimate the amount of selfishness, fear and lunacy that prevails in a fraction of the population. 

It’s a depressing thought, though perhaps less depressing than if the opposite proves to be true and naked bribes actually work.

What would it say about us as a people, if millions of us couldn’t be bothered to get vaccinated purely to take care of ourselves, our children, our families, co-workers and neighbors, but we would get off the couch for free swag and a longshot chance to win some cash?

Such naked greed is enough to make me admire the anti-vaxxers a bit. 

If you’re willing to deny decades of science for your personal beliefs – no matter how ridiculous society might judge them to be – that’s one thing. But if you’re so damn lazy that you need a free Bud and a doughnut to join the herd?

Maybe the herd is actually better off without you.