Shooting their shot: Students and employees win prizes in UK’s vaccine incentive program


The Albert B. Chandler Hospital on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Kai Spencer

When Anna Korosec was told she was the winner of a full tuition scholarship, she thought it was a scam.

Korosec, a senior family sciences major, had completely forgotten she’d entered her name in a Sept. 9 drawing. Even after her phone call with UK’s executive director for student success, it hadn’t quite sunk in.

“It didn’t become a reality until a week later, when someone sent me UK’s story announcing that I had won the scholarship,” Korosec said. “I’ve been working a lot of hours to pay my way through college and keep up with rent. Having the option to either not work as much or put more money in savings is so great.”

Korosec is one of 175 student and 327 employee winners of UK’s vaccine incentive program, running from Sept. 14 to Nov. 17. 

The program, which includes seven prize drawings for students, employees and student organizations throughout the fall semester, is part of the university’s attempt to increase the campus-wide COVID-19 vaccination rate. 

To enter, students must be enrolled in one or more courses and employees must have an active assignment at the university. Both must receive at least the first doses of Moderna or Pfizer, the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or another World Health Organization-approved single or double-dose vaccine.

Students can draw and win prizes, including a season pass to UK football’s home games, a $500 UK Bookstore gift card and tuition or education abroad scholarships. Employees can win prizes like an extra week of vacation, UK basketball season tickets and a one-time $1000 bonus. Student organizations can also cash in if 80 percent of their membership is vaccinated. UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said university funds were utilized to pay for these prizes. 

Kayla Johnson, assistant professor in the College of Education, said she was “ecstatic” when she found out she’d won basketball season tickets on the Oct. 6 drawing. 

“I screamed ‘Shut up!’ to the poor woman on the phone and made her say it again, because I couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said. “I grew up a UK basketball fan. I was also a student here and went to every game I could. For me, these tickets are an incredibly special prize.”

Johnson said she plans to attend every game she can and give her tickets to her graduate students when she can’t. To her, the vaccine incentive program demonstrates the university’s commitment to a healthier campus, and she thinks it’s been effective in getting students and employees vaccinated. 

According to UK’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of Oct. 27, 86.2% of students, 96.7% of faculty and 92.2% of staff physically on campus were fully vaccinated or in the process of being fully vaccinated.

Hannah Simms, executive director of UK Health Corps, said the intention of the program was to promote even higher vaccination rates for students, faculty and staff. 

“For both employees and students, I think we’re seeing good vaccination rates,” Simms said.

Korosec said that while the incentive program encouraged students to report their vaccinations, she doesn’t think it was the sole factor compelling them to get their first or second doses. 

Another student winner, senior mechanical engineering major Eric Nguyen, won season football tickets — his favorite was the UK v. Florida game. Nguyen said he was vaccinated before the incentive program was announced and his decision was based on what he felt was best for his community. However, he thinks the program may have convinced others to get vaccinated. 

“Vaccines save lives, and UK has such a high vaccination rate compared to some other schools,” Nguyen said. “The incentives have allowed for people to get rewarded for doing a good thing, which I believe is the reason that more students, staff and faculty have been getting vaccinated.”

The winners are randomly selected, upon verification of eligibility and compliance with the rules. If the winner cannot be verified, refuses to accept the prize or can’t be located, another name is drawn and declared the winner. 

Each eligible student and employee only has one opportunity for their name to be drawn to win a prize. The winner cannot transfer the prize to another person, relative or friend. 

Junior neuroscience major Zabriya Gavin said she did not know about the program but is hoping to win, as she is fully vaccinated. “Who wouldn’t want to win something and help others at the same time?” she said.

Winners are responsible for federal, state and local taxes associated with the prize, and the winnings will be reported to the IRS. For students, information will be sent to the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. Despite the tax, several employees said they thought the incentive program was effective. 

 “I think the program will have a slight impact because some people may find the prizes are worth the risk,” said senior public health major Sherea Hamilton, who is also a UK employee. “Hopefully, the tax part doesn’t change their minds.”

The program was made for the 2021 fall semester. Blanton said there are no current plans to extend the program to the spring semester or account for booster shots. 

There are still several drawings remaining for those who haven’t been vaccinated or registered yet. 

On Nov. 10 and 17, UK employees who have registered their vaccinations are eligible to win prizes like UK baseball and women’s basketball season tickets, gift cards to Kroger, Starbucks, Barnes and Noble and local restaurants and free parking for a year. 

Students have one drawing left on Nov. 10, with full tuition and education abroad scholarships, premium commencement seats and free Flex Dollars among the prizes available. 

While not all of the prizes are as valuable as full tuition scholarships or a free vacation, they’ve still made a difference for the winners. 

Zachary McKinney, a materials management technician for UK HealthCare, said his prize of a $1,000 bonus is going toward a down payment on a house. 

“I was pretty excited because I don’t win too many things and that is a good chunk of money,” McKinney said. “Sure, time off would have been nice or some of the other prizes, but money can go a long way.”