• Original Reporting
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announces a $5 million sweepstakes for people who are vaccinated against COVID-19. He was speaking at the governor's mansion in Denver on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

A soft-spoken health care data analyst stepped up to the microphone with evident nerves and giddiness Friday, the first $1 million winner of the Colorado Comeback Cash vaccine sweepstakes.

Sally Sliger, from the Northern Colorado town of Mead, had her name randomly selected from more than 3 million Coloradans who have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.

“I’m still having a hard time believing our luck of the draw,” Sliger said during a news conference with Gov. Jared Polis. Over her shoulder, a comically large novelty check with her name on it sat shrouded on an easel, waiting to be unveiled.

Sliger said she learned she had won after the drawing on Wednesday, when a state Health Department official sent her a text message asking her to call. Once the official verified her eligibility — winners must be Colorado residents and 18 years or older — Sliger became the new face of a slowing vaccination campaign that Polis and other state leaders are hoping to reenergize in the coming weeks.

“It was surreal,” she said. “I still haven’t really quite gotten there yet.”

Sally Sliger, a health care worker from Mead, speaks at a news conference on June 4, 2021, at which she was announced as the first winner of a $1 million drawing for the Colorado Comeback Cash coronavirus vaccine sweepstakes. Her husband, Chris, watches her alongside Gov. Jared Polis. (Screenshot by John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

The money for the Comeback Cash program — $6.25 million in total, spread out over five $1 million drawings for adults, and 25 drawings to award $50,000 college scholarships to kids 12 to 17 years old — comes from federal dollars meant to help states with promoting their vaccination campaigns.

After peaking in late-March and early-April, the pace of vaccination in Colorado has declined. 

A little over 140,000 doses of vaccine were administered last week in Colorado. At the peak, Colorado health care providers administered more than 400,000 doses a week.

This chart from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows weekly doses of coronavirus vaccine administered in Colorado. The data on the far right are preliminary because numbers are still coming in for that week. The chart is current as of June 4, 2021. (Provided by CDPHE)

Polis has said he believes the drop-off would have been even steeper had the state not introduced the sweepstakes program. But he also expressed dismay that more people have not gotten vaccinated — noting that COVID-19 case rates are generally highest in counties where vaccination rates are the lowest.

“There’s simply no need for this ongoing pandemic when we have the tools to stop it and it only takes 15 or 20 minutes of your time,” Polis said Friday, in reference to the vaccines.

Polis’ hope is that if the chance to protect themselves from severe illness or death from coronavirus has so far not been enough to persuade people to get vaccinated, maybe the chance at some serious cash will.

And, on Friday, Sliger stood before reporters to help in that effort.

“I’m hoping that you all, too, get the vaccine because this is the gift that we have right now and this is the gift that keeps giving,” she said.

Reading from prepared notes, Sliger said she received her first dose of vaccine in March, as soon as she was eligible. There was no doubt that she would get vaccinated, she said.

Sliger said she works as a data analyst for TRU Community Care, which provides hospice and grief support services across the northern Front Range. Through her work, she has seen how brutal the pandemic has been in Colorado, she said. Family and friends also fell ill, some seriously.

“For most, no matter what you do or where you are, this has been the most difficult year of our lives,” Sliger said.

But, now, there’s hope for better days ahead — and not just because her bank account is about to be quite a bit bigger. Sliger said she and her husband, Chris, plan to put some of the money into retirement accounts and use other dollars to pay off student loans and help their kids. She said there are house projects to take care of and conversations with family to be had about other needs.

But what’s the first thing she plans to do?

Sliger paused slightly at the question.

“We don’t know yet,” she beamed. “This is the first time this has ever happened. It’s a little overwhelming.”

John Ingold is a co-founder of The Colorado Sun and a reporter currently specializing in health care coverage. Born and raised in Colorado Springs, John spent 18 years working at The Denver Post. Prior to that, he held internships at...