Cincinnati woman wins final $1M Vax-a-Million prize

The final Vax-a-Million winners were announced tonight on live television as Ohio wraps up the COVID-19 vaccine incentive lottery.

Esperanza Diaz of Cincinnati won the final $1 million prize and Sydney Daum of Brecksville in Cuyahoga County won the full ride scholarship.

Over the last month the state has awarded four $1 million prizes to and four full college scholarships to Ohioans 12 and older who have received at least one vaccine dose.

Ohio was the first state to create a vaccine initiative with a million-dollar and college scholarship incentive to help promote vaccinations to ease the coronavirus pandemic. Following the May announcement, multiple states including Kentucky, California, Colorado and New York have started similar campaigns.

This week, 3,469,542 Ohioans 18 and older were entered in the drawing for the $1 million prize and 154,889 people ages 12 to 17 were entered for the college scholarship, according to the Ohio Department of Health. It was an increase of 41,028 adult entries and 4,702 scholarship entries from last week.

More than 5,528,000 people in Ohio received at least one dose of the vaccine and 5,081,019 have completed it, according to ODH data released Wednesday. More than 560,000 Ohioans have started the vaccination process since May 13, the day after Gov. Mike DeWine announced the initiative.

Ohio is using federal CARES Act money to fund the prizes.

Here’s what you should know about the drawings:

How are winners announced?

Winners of the $1 million prize and college scholarship are announced at 7:29 p.m. Wednesdays on live television and online at

The Ohio Department of Health will uses the time between the drawing on Sunday and naming of the winners to verify that the winners are valid entrants and meet the campaign’s rules. If a winner rejects the prize or is not eligible, the state will select the first alternate and so on until a valid winner is found.

What are the prizes?

The Ohio Vax-a-Million campaign awards five $1 million prizes and five full college scholarships to Ohioans 12 and older who have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine over five weeks.

Ohioans 18 and older are eligible for the $1 million prize and residents 12 to 17 are eligible for the scholarship.

Scholarships will cover room and board, tuition and books for four years at any Ohio state college, university or technical or trade school. The winners of the scholarships will choose which school they attend. However, winning the scholarship does not guarantee admission to any school.

The state will work with any winners who wish to attend a private Ohio university, DeWine said previously.

Winners of the million dollar prize are responsible for paying any related taxes.

How are winners selected?

The Ohio Lottery is using a random number generator to select winners, which is a computer that randomly picks a winner and alternates for each drawing.

While the public was not able to watch the drawings, a representative from the Ohio Auditor’s Office was present.

Prior to each drawing, the state went through entries to remove duplicates.

Once the computer selects a winning number, it’s entered into the database to reveal the winner. Then the lottery draw staff and representative from the auditor’s office both sign off on the drawing.

The final Vax-a-Million drawing took place Monday. No future drawings have been scheduled.

For a behind the scenes look at random number generator drawings, view the video from the Ohio Lottery below:

Who has won already?

Ohio has announced eight winners in the first four drawings.

Winners of the $1 million prize include Suzanne Ward of Findlay, Mark Cline of Union County, Jonathan Carlyle of Toledo and Abbigail Bugenski of Hamilton County.

Sean Horning of Cincinnati, Sara Afaneh of Lorain County, Zoie Vincent of Cuyahoga County and Joseph Costello of Englewood won the scholarships.

Last week, Ward and Horning’s mother, Lena, said they had no hesitation about being vaccinated.

“I always knew it was the best for everyone and I encouraged my son to do it,” said Lena.

While Cline was excited to win a million dollars, he said it’s more about getting the vaccine.

“I hope everyone makes the decision to get it,” he said.

Anafeh, who will be in eighth grade next year, said she’s thought about going to college, but hasn’t considered schools yet.

Carlyle plans to use the prize to purchase a home for his family, which includes his 5-month-old son.

“This is so welcome,” he said. “I can’t explain how much pressure this is going to take off.”

Vincent will be a high school senior next year and has already started thinking about college and her future.

“I’m definitely interested in medicine,” she said.

Vincent is considering Ohio State University and Case Western Reserve University for college, but is also looking at other schools.

Bugenske, who won $1 million, said she thought it was a prank when she heard she won and Costello said he still hadn’t really processed it yet.

Costello isn’t sure what he wants to study in college, but is considering Miami University or Ohio State University.

Bugenske said she had plans to buy a used car and would donate some of the $1 million prize to charity as well as invest it.

Does Ohio have other vaccine incentives?

DeWine said earlier that more information about additional vaccine incentives and prizes should be coming once the Vax-a-Million campaign finishes.

“We have some kind of additional incentives and things the private sector has been working on,” he said.

Some private businesses and organizations in the state have already announced their own rewards for getting vaccinated.

In May, Kroger announced its own $1 million giveaways as well as free groceries for a year. The grocery chain is giving away $1 million to five people and free groceries to 50 people.

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