With just 59 percent of adults fully or partially vaccinated and the number of daily vaccinations falling, one supposed solution is to offer a financial reward — as much as a million dollars! — to get jabs. Turning public health into a lottery, though, is a stretch of medical ethics: People reluctant to get a shot should be persuaded, not bought off.
The most obvious appeal to the pocketbook is in Ohio. There, Gov. Mike DeWine is giving away chances to win five $1 million cash prizes and five full public-college scholarships to teens who get a vaccination.
Will this work? The only way to tell is to wait and see. If Ohio sees a surge in vaccinations, good.
Yet the game-show approach is unnerving. Like any lottery, it appeals disproportionately to compulsive gamblers — the 1 percent who feel they can’t miss out on a chance to win.
For hundreds of thousands of Ohioans, preying on the fear of losing a prize may feel more like coercion than a public-health measure.
Less seriously, what is the motive Ohio wants people to have in desiring a vaccine?
All available science indicates the vaccine is safe and effective. (I got two, more than two weeks ago, am still alive and haven’t gotten COVID yet. If my non-doctor opinion matters to anyone, I would recommend getting it.)
But the vaccine is still a serious medical choice, having to do with both public and personal health.
People should weigh the benefits, which seem high, against the risks, which seem low for most people, to the best of their own abilities.
Adding a massive payoff skews these decisions. People have to feel happy with the choices they made and feel they made their choices freely, without pressure — especially important if it turns out that we’ll all need booster shots every six months or every year.
Being hesitant or skeptical — or just distrusting the government, after years and months of incompetence by both political parties — does not mark someone as an idiot or conspiracist.
For the most hesitant, attempting to buy people off may backfire: If it’s so great, why do you need to dangle seven figures in front of me?
Before looking for big headlines, governments should consider why some people are hesitant. The good news is hesitancy rates are falling, according to a new University of Pittsburgh public-health study, dropping from 27.5 percent in March to 22 percent.
Of the hesitant, half are worried about side effects, a worry that should continue to fall as they observe that vaccinated people have lived to tell the tale.
Far smaller percentages don’t trust the government, don’t think the COVID vaccines safe or don’t like vaccines overall. (The last is a truly small category, at only 3 percent of the population.)
For those who don’t trust government, a lottery may be far less important than recent news that eight Yankee employees got COVID despite being vaccinated. This could be a PR setback for the vaccines, unless public-health officials aggressively acknowledge that this is not what people should expect. They should answer questions about it, including during baseball games, where it’s the topic of much of the banter in between the play-by-play.
What about people who just haven’t gotten around to it yet? Making the vaccine ever easier to get is a good idea. Availability at train stations will lure the path-of-least-resistance people, as might tented curbside service outside pharmacies and supermarkets, so that people are reminded on their regular walks.
Then there’s the immigration and insurance issue. New York state repeatedly tells people that they don’t need to be in the country legally to get the vaccine and that they don’t need insurance — yet it still asks people signing up whether they have insurance and, if so, demands their policy numbers and the like. There’s no reason to ask these questions at all and deter people afraid of getting a bill later.
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with free donuts, fries and beer offered by private companies — although one fears for the republic if anyone is actually persuaded to get their shot just because of a chocolate glazed.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.