Vaccine inertia was inevitable. That was the sentiment shared by US President Joe Biden last week. The US and other jurisdictions have recently hit plateaus in vaccination numbers and have looked at ways to incentivise citizens to roll up their sleeves. Here are a few quirky examples:
Various state schemes exist in the US; in Washington, the “joints for jabs” campaign allows adults to get a joint of cannabis at specified retailers after receiving a vaccination. The states of Michigan and Arizona also use the lure of soft drugs to tempt the unvaccinated, where a COVID-19 vaccination card will get you free joints at private dispensaries. The states of Connecticut and New Jersey offer free alcohol under a similar scheme. New York has an attractive scheme for students; a lottery will provide full university scholarships to a lucky 50 vaccinated teenagers. Similar lottery schemes exist; for example, in Ohio, a $1 million prize is being offered to one lucky fully vaccinated winner. Also, New York’s “Vax and Scratch” lottery has a $5m jackpot up for grabs.
India is following suit with incentives. State bodies have been offering 5000 INR prizes for those who post a picture of themselves rolling up their sleeves and getting a vaccine. If you need a hand blender – travel to Rajkot in Gujarat, where that is the reward for having your vaccination. Women, on the other hand, are being offered free gold nose-ring. Elsewhere across India, restaurants are offering free snacks and drinks.
Northern Thailand has launched a novel prize campaign; get vaccinated to win a cow. A town in the Mae Chaem district of Chiang Mai province is offering a weekly prize of a cow worth 10,000 Baht to those who get vaccinated. As a result, vaccination rates have soared.
Lastly, in Serbia, they went with the more straightforward cash reward. Those who got a jab before the end of May were given 3,000 dinars (c.$40) as a reward for “people who showed responsibility”. Not a bad result for a few minutes of your time.
The question is whether similar schemes would work in Australia. A few promotions are being rolled out, such as the Melbourne Cinema Group’s offer of free popcorn and choc-tops as part of its “‘Free Snacks for Vax”. Not as lucrative as a university scholarship, but it’s a start. Additionally, Qantas may be offering flight vouchers, up to a 1000 flight points or a chance to win a year’s worth of free travel to vaccinated citizens. This juxtaposes the penalising methods traditionally adopted in Australia; for example, those who refused to vaccinate their children were coerced by withholding child care payments under the controversial “no jab no pay” policy. Of course, we cannot escape the truth that experts disagree on the efficacy of incentives. However, they do agree that information campaigns are more effective in the long term than buying compliance. We tend to agree too.