DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has announced the first five winners of $50,000 scholarships in a program designed to encourage students to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Twenty five scholarships are being offered by the state, along with a $1 million lottery program for five adult winners who get at least one shot.
The Denver Post reports that Natalie M. of Centennial, 14-year-old Arianna Garcia of Longmont, 15-year-old Liam Atkins of Boulder, 16-year-old Brett Cheney of Mesa County and 14-year-old Gabriella Sleight of Littleton won the first round of scholarships, which are paid for with federal pandemic relief funds.
Colorado resident students ages 12 to 17 who have received at least one vaccine dose are eligible. Winners selected in random drawings can use the scholarships at the post-secondary educational institutions of their choice — including colleges and technical, occupational and credential programs both inside and outside Colorado. Five winners will be chosen each week through July 9.
Polis previously unveiled a lottery to reward five adult Colorado residents who have received at least one vaccine shot $1 million each. Sally Sliger of the Weld County town of Mead won the first prize on Friday.
Other U.S. states, including Maryland, Ohio, New York and Oregon, have introduced vaccine-incentive lotteries. Ohio is offering four-year scholarships to an in-state public university, including room and board, to five residents ages 12 to 17.
One Steamboat Springs student, identified by officials only as Thomas M., won the Colorado scholarship prize but declined the prize because he said he already has a scholarship and help from his grandparents to cover engineering studies at Clarkson University.
“I wanted to pass it on to someone who needed it a bit more than me,” Thomas told reporters.
On Wednesday, Polis announced that 12 Colorado counties, including Denver, had reached President Joe Biden's goal of having 70% of the U.S. population with at least one vaccination shot by July 4.
More than 3.1 million Colorado residents, or more than half the state's estimated 6 million population, have received one dose, and nearly 2.7 million are fully immunized, according to state officials. Residents 12 years old and older are eligible for vaccines.
The Biden administration is fighting vaccine hesitancy and a lack of urgency among people to get shots, particularly in the South and Midwest. The U.S. averaged about 800,000 new injections per day last week, down from a high of nearly 2 million per day two months ago.
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment said that fewer than 2% of nearly 169,000 COVID-19 cases in the state since Jan. 15 were reported among fully vaccinated residents. But in Mesa County, with a full vaccination rate of just 38%, health officials have reported 125 cases of a highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first identified in India.
The variant, also known as the delta variant, “has taken hold” in Mesa County, according to county Public Health Director Jeff Kuhr. The Grand Junction Sentinel reported that the county issued a public health alert Wednesday about the variant's spread.
“This is the one I think we need to protect ourselves against,” Kuhr said. “People have become disinterested in the vaccine and this is not the time.”