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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Brecksville Middle Schooler Wins Ohio's Final Vax-A-Million Scholarship

a photo of Sydney Daum and her parents
The Ohio Channel
Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School student Sydney Daum (center) and her parents, Jennifer (left) and Jeremy (right), join a news conference with Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday, June 24, 2021. Daum was the fifth and final winner of a full-ride scholarship as part of Ohio's Vax-A-Million lottery incentive.

A Cuyahoga County teen is the fifth and final winner of a full-ride, four-year college scholarship as part of Ohio’s Vax-A-Million lottery incentive – the third Northeast Ohio student to win the prize.

Sydney Daum of Brecksville was picked as the scholarship winner out of more than 154,000 teens who entered the drawing, according to the Ohio Lottery.

Daum joined a news conference with Gov. Mike DeWine Thursday with her parents, Jennifer and Jeremy. The Vax-A-Million incentive motivated them to get Sydney vaccinated, her mother, Jennifer Daum, said.

“We were going to wait [until] later in the summer to have her fully vaccinated by the time school started, but when [DeWine] announced the Vax-A-Million lottery we thought, ‘Hey, this is a good time to maybe do it now.’ We did, and we can’t believe it paid off,” she said.

Sydney, a student at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School, has not yet thought about where she wants to go to college, her parents said, but she will likely pick a college in the state after winning the Vax-A-Million scholarship.

The scholarship money will be placed in a 529 college savings account and is pegged to the cost of tuition, fees, room and board, and books at Ohio’s most expensive public university, DeWine said.

Million dollar winner

The final million-dollar prize went to Esperanza Diaz, a dental assistant from Cincinnati, who said she had been paying attention to the drawings each week.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh my goodness. God, let it be me.” And here I am,” Diaz said during the Thursday news conference. “I was so excited. I couldn’t sleep last night.”

DeWine announced the Vax-A-Million lottery program in mid-May in an attempt to rectify Ohio’s plummeting COVID-19 vaccination rate. Five adults won $1 million and five students won full college scholarships.

Three out of the five scholarships went to Northeast Ohio students: 12-year-old Sara Afaneh in Week 3 and Mayfield Village teen Zoie Vincent in Week 2. Shaker Heights native Abbigail Bugenske was the first Ohioan to win the million-dollar lottery.

Vaccinations did spike after the program was announced May 12, DeWine said. More than 187,000 Ohioans received the vaccine the immediate week after, compared to 92,000 the week prior, he said Thursday.

But the spike was short-lived, and vaccinations began declining again several weeks after, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

Right now, less than 50 percent of Ohioans are fully vaccinated, and the governor is concerned about the more contagious Delta variant leading to surges in areas of the state with low vaccination uptake.

In several counties on the southern end of Northeast Ohio, including Ashland, Wayne and Tuscarawas, less than 30 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to ODH data. Holmes County is reporting the lowest vaccination rate in the state, with just 14 percent of residents fully vaccinated, according to the data.

More statewide incentives and prizes from Ohio businesses to encourage vaccinations could be coming down the pike soon, although DeWine, who has been teasing the possibility for several weeks, did not have many details to share Thursday.
“[People] might be also incentivized by smaller prizes, but more. That was something that certainly has been pointed out to us as a possibility,” he said.

People between the ages of 12 and 35 need the most vaccine outreach in Ohio, DeWine added.

State and local health officials will ramp up efforts to vaccinate kids age 12-to-17 this summer, DeWine said with clinics at Boys and Girls Clubs, summer food outreach programs, and on-site at schools, he said. Vaccines will also be made available through pediatrician’s offices, he added.

While cases and deaths continue to decrease in Ohio, the state is reporting about 100 deaths per week, DeWine said.

“Our numbers are good,” he said. “But the virus is still here. And with the variants, it can be even more dangerous for those who are not vaccinated.”

The ages of those dying of COVID-19 has dropped, he said: People in the 40-to-79 age range now make up more than 65 percent of deaths in the state.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.