Steamboat grad wins $50k scholarship for getting vaccinated, turns it down |

Steamboat grad wins $50k scholarship for getting vaccinated, turns it down

Toby Morse said he wants the money to go to a student who needs it more

When the Morse family got a call on their home phone about the Colorado Comeback Scholarship program, Toby Morse said he wasn’t quite sure what it was about.

But when the recent Steamboat Mountain School graduate returned the call, he learned he was one of the first students to be randomly chosen for the $50,000 scholarship eligible to vaccinated students in Colorado. After discussing it with his mom, Morse opted to turn down the cash.

“I already have an amazing academic scholarship to go to Clarkson University, and with some generosity from my grandparents, I’ll be graduating from college debt free,” said Morse, who plans to study engineering. “We decided it would be best for me to turn it down and, hopefully, find someone else out there who needs it more than I do.”

The scholarships are one of many ways — including three more million-dollar drawings — that state leaders are trying to entice Coloradans to roll up their sleeves and get a COVID-19 jab. Five $50,000 Scholarships were awarded Thursday to teens 12 to 17 years old who have gotten their COVID-19 vaccine, and 20 more will go to students who get their first dose before June 30.

Routt County recently reached the 75% mark of residents above the age of 16 to have started the vaccine series. When about 1,200 people get their second dose of the vaccine, the 75% of residents 16-plus will be fully vaccinated.

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Morse said the high vaccination rates in Routt County, which still rank in the top 10 in the state, is the reason his grandparents felt comfortable enough to visit from the East Coast this spring.

“I hadn’t seen then for a year and a half, and it was really amazing for me to see them again,” Morse said while on a Facebook Live announcement with Gov. Jared Polis last Thursday. “Even though I am deathly afraid of shots, I knew I had to get out there and do my civic duty and get vaccinated.”

Only the Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for those under the age of 18, but Moderna asked the Food and Drug Administration last week for emergency use approval for those ages 12 to 17. Late last month, Moderna released results from a trial of 3,700 12- to 17-year-olds that showed the vaccine to be 100% effective, similar to results Pfizer used to bolster its case for approval for children in May.

Children make up about 20% of the nation’s population and are seen as a crucial group to vaccinate for schools to bring students back next fall without the many precautions taken because of the pandemic.

“This last year has been a tough one for students across this state,” Polis said. “This year in school was just a small shell of what it should have been.”

Because of the vaccine, Polis said, “our classrooms are going to be safer than ever before,” with many of the precautions schools needed to take because of the pandemic no longer necessary.

The Hayden and South Routt school districts finished the year with full-time, in-person learning at all levels, and the Steamboat Springs School Board has made it clear their intention is for school to be full-time, in-person and without masks this fall.

Natalie M., of Centennial; Arianna Garcia, 14, of Longmont; Liam Atkins, 15, of Boulde;, Brett Cheney, 16, of Mesa County; and Gabriella Sleight, 14, of Littleton, are the first five students to get the scholarship last week, with 20 more to be announced in the coming weeks.

Polis also announced the second vaccinated Coloradan to win $1 million in cash last Friday, with three more announcements coming each Friday through the beginning of July.

“If you have been waiting, now is the time to do it. We want to end this pandemic, we want you to protect yourself,” Polis said, pointing to the rewards the state is dangling in front of the unvaccinated. “There is a good reason to do it sooner rather than later.”

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