As students prepare to return to college campuses in the fall, Maryland launched a $1 million effort to encourage vaccination among young people.
Using vaccination records, the state will award $50,000 scholarship awards to 20 teenagers through weekly drawings until Labor Day.
All Marylanders aged 12 to 17 who both live in and are vaccinated in Maryland will be eligible to win the VaxU promotion.
The Maryland Higher Education Commission and the Maryland Department of Health will jointly run the program, which was announced by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at the University of Maryland College Park campus on Wednesday.
Funds for the program are being provided through the American Rescue Plan federal stimulus.
Hogan said the promotion is “just one more way that we are reinforcing the importance of getting every single Marylander that we can vaccinated against COVID-19, especially our young people.”
“It is clearer than ever before: these vaccines are extremely effective,” Hogan said Wednesday afternoon. “But those who are unvaccinated do remain at risk, especially with the new highly transmissible variants, including the Delta variant which is currently circulating.”
According to the Maryland Department of Health, unvaccinated people accounted for 95% of all new COVID cases in Maryland last month, 93% of new hospitalizations and 100% of COVID deaths.
Hogan said there will be some students who can’t be convinced to get the vaccine, but he hopes the drawings will spur procrastinators, “folks that maybe just need a little extra incentive to go out and do it.”
University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman, said as an educator and a practicing pediatrician, he was “fully on board with anything with everything that protects our young people.”
“And if the scholarships get vaccines into the arms of more adolescents, more teenagers, count me in,” he said.
Maryland as a whole is among the most vaccinated states in the country, with more than 75% of adults at least partially vaccinated. More than half of 12 to 17 year-olds are at least partially vaccinated, Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader said in a press release.
University of Maryland College Park President Darryll J. Pines said, as of this week, nearly 70% of the University of Maryland community is fully vaccinated; a figure that increases to 80% of those who currently report to campus.
But state health officials remain concerned about the Delta variant of the virus, “which is much more virulent than spreading faster with unvaccinated people,” Hogan said.
Dr. Jinlene Chan, Maryland deputy health secretary of public health services, said there have only been 64 documented cases of the Delta variant in Maryland, even as it has begun to account for the majority of cases in other less-vaccinated parts of the country.
Only a handful of people have been hospitalized as a result of the Delta variant in Maryland, Chan said. A similarly small number of vaccinated people have been hospitalized after contracting the Alpha variant of the virus, she said.
The state is working to sequence the viruses contracted by as many hospitalized patients in Maryland as possible to understand the spread of different COVID variants, officials said.
In late May, the state announced a vaccine lottery for all Maryland adults. Forty winners received $40,000 awards from a random drawing, and the state awarded a final winner $400,000 on the Fourth of July.
VaxU winners will receive funding through a Maryland Prepaid College Trust Account or Maryland College Investment Plan contribution.
For more information, go to MHEC.maryland.gov.