WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Recent Myrtle Grove Middle School grad Vania Martinez at first could not believe that she had won North Carolina’s first ‘Cash 4 College’ vaccine lottery.
“I got the call — it was exciting, I thought it was fake, I thought it was a lie — I was like, ‘no, I doubt it.’ And my mom was like, ‘no, yeah you did, it’s not a lie,’” Martinez said. “It’s crazy how you just wake up one day and, ‘oh you won a free scholarship!’”
Governor Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday announced the first two winners of North Carolina’s vaccination lottery. Shelly Wyramon of Winston-Salem, a mother of three and who has 20 years of teaching experience, won the $1 million prize.
Martinez said winning the money towards college tuition was both shocking and life-changing for her family.
“It really is a big weight off our shoulders because I started saving up for half of my college and my mom was going to pay half of it, so it was going to be like 50-50 and I was going to go to college,” she said.
She even just started a summer job to start saving up for her half of her tuition. If she didn’t save up enough, she planned on joining the Marine Corps.
Martinez decided to get the vaccine after losing loved ones to the virus and after doing some research herself, ultimately deciding it was what was safest for her and her family.
She hopes that her peers consider making the same choice.
“I would say get vaccinated, not only for you — even if you do win or don’t win a prize — at the end of the day, it’s for your health, for your families health, for this pandemic to get over,” Martinez said.
Dr. West Paul, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for New Hanover Regional Medical Center, told WECT that while high vaccination rates are seen in New Hanover County’s most vulnerable population, it’s the younger population that continues to be a challenge to get vaccinated.
“Unfortunately, the flip side of that coin, is we’ve seen more and more young people that have now been hospitalized, some [with] severe illness, for that,” Paul said.
Paul and other health experts hope more kids make the same choice as Martinez, especially as the virus continues to mutate.
“This is the population that we know historically hasn’t been that horribly affected by the previous variants of the COVID virus, so they haven’t been hospitalized, but as we felt might happen with the new variants, such as the Delta variant, you’re more likely to go to the hospital with that variant,” Paul said. “That’s what we don’t want to see, so all the more urgency to get the younger population vaccinated.”
Even though she has four years of high school ahead of her, Martinez already has a college picked out that she hopes to one day attend: North Carolina State University.
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