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First winners of Ohio’s Vax-a-Million Covid-19 vaccination lottery revealed

Andrew Cuomo

One lucky winner of Ohio’s Vax-a-Million lottery, which aims to boost the state’s coronavirus vaccination rate, scored $1 million dollars — and another has claimed a full college scholarship.

Both were pretty much in a state of shock when they got the good news.

“To be completely honest, I did not know that the winner was being announced,” said Abbigail Bugenske, 22, who won $1 million.

“I was screaming enough that my parents thought that I was crying and that something was wrong.”

To qualify for the $1 million prize, Ohioans must be at least 18. For 12- to 17-year-olds, a full-ride college scholarship is on offer. The chance to win big has helped boost Ohio’s Covid-19 vaccination rate by 45%, Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday.

Wednesday’s winners were the first of the vaccination incentive program.

Fourteen-year-old Joseph Costello was thrilled to be the first student scholarship winner. “I was pretty blown away with it … but, yeah, really happy about it,” he said.

He also told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Thursday that appearing on national TV after winning the vaccination lottery was “very weird.”

Joseph said he’s considering attending the University of Dayton or Ohio State University, though he’s not sure yet what he would like to study.

Bugenske, who works for General Electric, said she will be keeping her job and still plans to pursue a graduate degree in aerospace engineering.

As for what she will do with the winnings, Bugenske said she’s in the market for a used car and would like to donate some of the money to charity, but is “probably going to invest most of it.”

Joseph’s mom, Colleen, said she’s thankful there was a bench nearby for her to take a seat when she got the call from DeWine — which she initially mistook for a recording. DeWine and first lady Fran DeWine visited the family at their Englewood home on Wednesday evening.

“It was a lot of fun to interact with them and just get to know (the governor) a little bit, real meaningful (and) just a memorable night,” said Joseph’s father, Rich.

The winners were asked about their thoughts on whether the vaccine incentive had influenced them to get inoculated.

“We had intended to get all of our children vaccinated by the end of this month,” said Joseph’s mom. “But because of the initial entry deadline for the contest, we pulled that date forward and made sure that everyone was vaccinated, so it did accelerate the timing for us.”

“We were excited about the opportunity, and it did definitely influenced our decision to get it in the time frame that we got it,” she told reporters Thursday.

Bugenske, who got vaccinated before the lottery was announced, said she thinks it was a great idea and encourages everyone to get the vaccine.

“If winning a million dollars isn’t incentive enough, I don’t really know what would be,” said the recent Michigan State University grad.

DeWine said 2,758,470 Ohioans entered the drawing to win the $1 million prize and 104,386 residents aged 12 to 17 entered the drawing for a scholarship.

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