Chattanooga: More than 3,300 Hamilton County residents got COVID-19 shots thanks to 'Vax 4 Cash'

Courtesy photo by city of Chattanooga / Sweepstakes winner Berkley Congdon.

About 3,340 Hamilton County residents became fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a result of Chattanooga's "Vax 4 Cash Sweepstakes," according to a news release from the city.

The release states the city emailed a two-question survey to the nearly 19,000 people who entered and received the responses from entrants saying they either got vaccinated themselves or knew someone else who did because of the sweepstakes.

The sweepstakes launched Aug. 5, and the final winner was chosen at the end of January. During that time, 20 entrants were randomly selected to win $1,000 and a month of free city parking on top of other prizes, ranging from spa treatments to a pair of roundtrip airline tickets.

(READ MORE: World Health Organization says COVID boosters needed, reversing previous call)

Entrants were required to live in Hamilton County and have received either the initial two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine to qualify. It didn't matter if they had been vaccinated before or after the sweepstakes was announced.

Ellis Smith, director of special projects for the city, said pulling off the sweepstakes was a heavy lift that involved collaboration between six different departments as well as external partners, including the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation and local businesses. The city would "absolutely do it again," he said.

"The city has never run a sweepstakes before, certainly not one dealing with vaccines or public health. We did not know what to expect. We had nothing to measure it by," Smith said in a phone interview. "But to roll out a program with our limited communications ability, to reach people and be able to do it to that level over that large of a group, I was thrilled.

"We extended it to all of Hamilton County, as well, and it undoubtedly saved lives - it keeps families together, business running," he said.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga's Vax 4 Cash sweepstakes up to 17,000 entrants; hear from 3 winners)

The sweepstakes was funded as a pilot program using $23,000 in federal pandemic aid. Based on the survey responses, that would mean that the city spent less than $7 for each newly vaccinated resident.

The second survey question asked entrants if they took action to influence others to get vaccinated either in person or on social media, to which 34.8% of respondents, representing an estimated 6,526 sweepstakes entrants, answered yes.

"While not a scientific survey, the poll shows that the impact of the sweepstakes extended far beyond those who entered, with thousands of residents making their voices heard in an attempt to encourage friends and family to get vaccinated," the release states.

As of Sunday, 200,771 county residents, amounting to 55% of the population, were fully vaccinated, according to the most recent data from the Hamilton County Health Department.

The county's rate of new COVID-19 vaccine takers has slowed to its lowest level to date, with 279 residents receiving their first vaccine dose so far in March.

Contact Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673. Follow her on Twitter @ecfite.