SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — It’s been more than three months since Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his ‘Vax for the Win’ program, doubling as a game show host and handing out cash prizes in the largest vaccine lottery in the country. In addition to the grand prizes, he also promised two million “You Call the Shot” $50 incentive gift cards to anyone who got a shot, on a first come first serve basis.
However, CBS13 has learned as many as a quarter of those cards had not been successfully delivered by late August – and hundreds of thousands of dollars in Vax for the Win gift cards may have gone unused due to “procedural errors.”
Twenty four hours after this story was published, and 15 days after our initial request, CDPH provided additional information that the agency left out of its initial response. We have included that information where relevant below.
“We’re putting aside $50 gift cards available today for anyone that has not been vaccinated to have that opportunity to be vaccinated,” Newsom said during a May 27 press conference. “Two million incentive cards on a first-come, first-serve basis.”
Fast forward a few months and the state tells us more than 1.5 million redemption codes were distributed. But what about the rest? And how many have been redeemed?
CDPH declined to state how many cards have actually been redeemed to date, stating:
“It is premature to say how much funding has gone unclaimed as redemption codes are still being issued by mail, and the window for redemption is still open.”
The agency clarified Tuesday:
“Two million incentives cards were available as part of the Vax for the Win incentives program. Of those available cards, 1.6 million redemption codes have been distributed via email and text. The remaining codes are being distributed via other channels, such as direct mail, when a recipient does not have a valid email address or phone number.”
Newsom said in May that they hoped to distribute all the money before the state’s “reopening” on June 15th. Turns out, that didn’t happen.
CBS13 has learned that when some tried to redeem their cards, they received a message that it had already been used.
According to information provided by the state, thousands may have been impacted.
“More than 1.5 million redemption codes have been successfully delivered,” the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said in an email response in late August. “A procedural error impacted less than 1% of the codes sent.”
CDPH did not elaborate on the error and did not provide specific numbers. However, with 2 million cards in all, and more than 1.5 million codes “delivered,” it appears that thousands of Californians may have been impacted – resulting in potentially hundreds of thousands in unused Vax for the Win funds.
CDPH clarified Tuesday that “duplicative codes” were caused by a “procedural error,” adding:
“The less than 15,000 people (accounting for less than 1% of people in the program) who were affected by this error had the problem resolved and were sent a text or emailed a new code to use when redeeming their card.”
However, CBS13 has confirmed that the person who initially brought the error to our attention last month has not received a new code as of September 7th. We received similar comments from others after this story aired September 6th.
CDPH also disputes that the error may have resulted in potentially hundreds of thousands in unused ‘Vax for the Win’ funds but declined to say how much money has gone unclaimed to date.
If even 4000 of the impacted recipients did not receive, or have been unable to redeem, the replacement codes, that would equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused funds.
CBS13 specifically asked in a follow-up response, “Can CDPH confirm how many of the “less than 15,000” who were impacted by the error have successfully redeemed the new code that they were sent?” We are waiting for a response.
Meanwhile, some unused Vax for the Win money is reportedly being transferred to California’s Surplus Money Investment Fund.
As CalMatters’ newsletter editor Emily Hoeven was first to report, the state confirmed that minors won three of the $50,000 ‘Vax for the Win’ prizes. Hoeven reports that their money will be transferred to the state’s investment fund until they’re of age – when the state says they’ll get their money with interest.
But have additional ‘Vax for the Win’ funds been invested in that account? And exactly how much money from the gift cards has gone unclaimed to date?
Those were among the other questions CBS13 asked the state Monday.
Again, CDPH declined to state how much money has gone unclaimed to date, but the agency did clarify:
“The only funding currently in California’s Surplus Money Investment Fund is the three $50,000 prizes won by minors, so $150,000 total. No other Vax for the Win funding is invested in this fund.”
CDPH did clarify that anyone experiencing issues redeeming their incentive cards should call the Vax for the Win hotline (833-993-3873) for help. Be sure to have your vaccine card and your vaccine information handy for the representative.