051421 Polis presser (web copy)

Gov. Jared Polis discusses the state's relaxing of the mask mandate in alignment with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 14, 2021.

Twenty-five vaccinated young Coloradans will each win $50,000 scholarships between next week and early July, Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday as part of the state's growing push to get more people vaccinated against coronavirus.

The scholarship program will pay out $1.25 million in total winnings to 12 to 17-year-olds who've been inoculated, Polis said. COVID-19 vaccines were approved for us in those 12 and up last month. The announcement comes a week after Polis announced five vaccinated adults in Colorado would each win $1 million between June 4 and July 7.

Five weekly scholarship winners will be selected beginning next week and continuing through July 9. The money will be placed in a college savings account usable for college and vocational schools.

Anyone who has been vaccinated in that group, or will be vaccinated in the coming weeks, will be automatically enrolled in the sweepstakes, Polis said. The winners will be notified each Monday, with a public announcement each Friday.

"We know that the pandemic had a very significant impact on students and on education," said Angie Paccione, the executive director of the state's Department of Higher Education. "We saw undergrad enrollment decline over the last year and a half. Many first-year students decided to take a gap year. This scholarship sends a clear message to our state that we need you for our Colorado comeback."

The governor has touted vaccination enticements elsewhere, telling reporters last week that Ohio experienced a double-digit percentage bump in its vaccination rates, particularly among younger residents. 

But the early days of the $1 million sweepstakes have produced no such jump in Colorado: Vaccinations continued to slump throughout May and are significantly below their April peaks.

A week out, Polis struck a more reserved tone about the goals of the incentive programs Wednesday. He said he didn't think "anybody was expecting a spike" in vaccination rates because of the $1 million sweepstakes and that he would expect more interest once the first winners are announced Friday.

"I think what would've happened without this giveaway is a greater, rapid drop-off in interest," he said. "We want to sustain that over time, we don't want to see a rapid decline."

In sync with its first sweepstakes announcement last week, the state unveiled a digital portal through which vaccinated Coloradans can check to ensure their status is registered with the state database.

But many residents complained that, despite being vaccinated, they couldn't find their name in the database. That problem is still ongoing, Polis acknowledged.

Officials for the state Department of Public Health and Environment said last week that the problem was likely because providers mistyped or misspelled patients' names, addresses or other personal information when entering it into the state system.

The agency said that the problems will not impact people's ability to enter and win the sweepstakes.

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