Sally Sliger, center, Colorado's first $1-million winner for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and her husband, Chris, right, joke with Colorado Governor Jared Polis during a news conference to announce the awarding of the prize Friday, June 4, 2021, at the governor's mansion in Denver. Colorado will award four more $1-million prizes in the next month to residents who have been vaccinated. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
View All (4)

DENVER (AP) — Colorado has picked its first $1 million winner in a new lottery that is trying to inspire state residents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday that Sally Sliger of the Weld County town of Mead won the first of five $1 million prizes for residents who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Sliger is a clinical data analyst at Tru Community Care, a Lafayette-based nonprofit health organization that offers hospice and other care.

Sliger recounted how she and the community at large have suffered both personally and professionally the loss of neighbors and loved ones during the pandemic. “Like all the rest of us, we have postponed family events,” she said. “We've postponed memorial services. ... So when the wait was over, there was no doubt I would get my vaccination."

She said she and her husband, Chris, initially planned to bolster their retirement savings and help their children with the winnings.

“I am hoping that you all get the vaccine because this is the gift we have right now. This is the gift that keeps on giving,” Sliger said.

Every resident who was vaccinated by the end of May was entered in the first of five weekly drawings. Residents needed to be 18 years old and have received at least one dose of the approved coronavirus vaccines to be eligible. They didn't need to register for the drawing, which was conducted by the Colorado Lottery.

Colorado is one of several states offering lottery prizes, scholarships and other incentives to drive up vaccination rates. California on Friday held the first in a series of drawings for $16.5 million in prize money aimed at encouraging Californians to get their shots ahead of June 15, when the state plans to lift almost all virus-related restrictions.

Starting Monday, Colorado will conduct random drawings to give $50,000 scholarships to a total of 25 students who have received COVID-19 vaccinations. State resident students ages 12 to 17 who have received at least one vaccine dose are eligible.

The scholarship money will go to CollegeInvest funds that generate interest. Winners can use their scholarships at a post-secondary educational institution of their choice, including colleges and technical, occupational and credential programs both inside and outside Colorado.

The state set aside federal coronavirus relief funds to pay for the lottery and scholarships.

More than 3 million Colorado residents, about half of the state’s population, have received their first vaccine dose, and nearly 2.6 million have been fully immunized, according to the state health department. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 51% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose and 41% are fully inoculated.

Ohio was the first state to announce a lottery plan, inspiring other states to follow. Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said vaccinations have surged since the program was launched.

The Denver Post reported Friday that the Colorado vaccine lottery has yet to create a surge in vaccinations but that officials hope it will once residents see that money is being given away.

Heather Roth, immunization branch chief at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told the Post that Colorado witnessed a “little bump” in vaccinations after the lottery was announced on May 25. Polis has said that without the lottery, Colorado would see “a greater rapid drop-off in interest” in getting vaccinated.

More than 144,000 doses were administered in Colorado the week of May 23, down from more than 227,000 the previous week, according to the state health department.