On May 27, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the "Vax for the Win" program, which will randomly select a few lucky, vaccinated Californians to win thousands to millions of dollars in cash.
But some medical professionals worry that, in the rush to get the state vaccinated before reopening on June 15, mistakes are getting made.
"As a physician, I want my patients to get vaccinated because that’s the best thing for them medically, not that it’s the best thing for them financially," said Dr. Thomas Yadegar, medical director of the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Cedar Sinai Medical Center.
Yadegar worries that, aside from the questionable financial motive, the program might actually be illegal, due to patient privacy laws.
"I don’t understand how you can enroll someone into a lottery system without them knowing about it, and if you start advertising their name and the fact they got vaccinated, that would probably break HIPAA regulations," Yadegar said.
Other doctors, like Dr. Michael Hirt, an internal medicine physician, worry that the program sets a bad precedent for boosters or other necessary vaccines in the future.
"We have countries where people are begging for the vaccine, would do anything get a vaccine," Hirt told NBC4. "Just like here a few months ago, when we were trying to give vaccines, and now we’re here trying to bribe them like children?"
"You’re pulling a page from the 'how to raise a spoiled child' playbook. You’re inducing the exact same behavior you don’t want to see in the future."
The California Department of Public Health said that the names of the winners in the incentives program will not be disclosed without their permission, and that private medical information will not be shared through the program. Everything will be handled randomly and anonymously.
But Hirt remains skeptical.
“To go through a private medical database for the purposes of this publicity stunt, I think is a mistake, and may actually be against the law," he said.
In the meantime, the vaccine incentive program remains in play, with the first payouts occurring on June 4 and 11.