Final Colorado $1 Million Winner Thankful For ‘Miracle’ Vaccine — And The Cash

John Daley/CPR News
Gov. Polis announced on Tuesday, May 25 that Colorado would award $1 million each week beginning June 4 to five COVID-19 vaccine recipients.

Heidi Russell found out yesterday that she was the latest and final winner of Colorado's $1 million vaccine drawing. The shock is still settling in.

“This prize will be so helpful in raising four kids,” Russell said. “When I told my daughter yesterday, her first comment was, ‘yes, my college is paid for.’ But I also look forward to helping others and serving others with this money. I don't know if there's a big enough word to say, thank you. But with that being said, thank you, Governor Polis. I appreciate this.”

The mother of four — including a two-week old daughter — accepted the check at the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday afternoon. Russell, of Aurora, works at her husband’s oral and facial surgery practice. She said they both got the vaccine in the winter due to his profession.

“We are just very grateful for the brilliant minds of scientists, researchers, manufacturers, government leaders, that have enabled this vaccine to come to fruition, to create a safe and effective vaccine in less than a year is a miracle,” Russell said. 

Polis also announced the five winners of a $50,000 education scholarship drawn from the names of the 12 through 17 year olds who have received the COVID vaccine.

Polis unveiled the drawings in late May as an incentive to get more people vaccinated after the initial surge in vaccines had begun to taper off. 

“I think it was a really well publicized effort and many people know about it in our state and it probably factored into the decision making of some to get it a little sooner rather than later,” said Polis. 

Polis reiterated that at least 70 percent of adult Coloradans have now had one dose of the vaccine.  How many of them were prompted to get vaccinated by the chance for $1 million or a college scholarship remains an open question.

“We know it'll be a lot harder to get from 70 to 80 than it was to get from zero to 70. But with your help, we will do it,” said Polis. He noted that it wasn’t possible to change everybody’s mind about vaccinations. 

“There's always going to be a few folks that don't want to get vaccinated, but by and large, we know that there's folks out there that have just been putting it off.”

The money for the drawings came from federal dollars targeted to marketing and promoting the state’s vaccine program. Even though the drawings are now complete, Polis and his staff said more incentive programs will happen in the future. 

We are making phone calls, sending text messages, sending mail to people's homes and taking our vaccine buses across the state to make sure that every Coloradan can access a free and convenient vaccine and to ensure their questions are answered and their concerns are addressed,” said Tara Trujilllo, Colorado’s COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign Manager 

Other states, including California, Oregon, Maryland and New York, also did similar vaccine drawings. Everyone in Colorado who was vaccinated was intended to be automatically entered into the drawing.