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Incentives can provide ‘a little push’ to overcome vaccine hesitancy: expert

Last Updated Jun 12, 2021 at 2:32 pm MDT

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Summary

Some people reluctant to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are now being offered incentives


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As vaccine hesitancy threatens to derail America’s COVID-19 recovery, many jurisdictions in the US and Canada are turning to incentives to get people into clinics.

But why is a bit of cash, a lotto ticket, or a free joint in the case of Washington state, enough to convince those still on the fence about getting a vaccine to take the plunge?

“I think the really die-hard anti-vaxxers aren’t going to be convinced by some of these incentives,” says Dr. Stephen Hoption Cann, Clinical Professor in the UBC School of Population and Public Health. “But there’s a lot of people in sort of in the middle ground there that just need a little push to get out there and get their vaccine.”

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Social psychologist Dr. Azim Shariff notes as the vaccination campaign continues, more of those who were initially unsure have become willing to line up for a shot.

“People are weighing all sorts of factors in this, and if the incentive — or the signal the incentive sends — is the thing that actually tips them over the scales, then that’s a win.”

There is no single explanation for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, the professors say. People may have concerns about side effects, or a distrust of government institutions, or a desire to take a “wait and see” approach to rapidly-developed treatments.

Dr. Shariff invokes a phenomenon in psychology known as betrayal aversion.

“People really don’t like being harmed by things that are supposed to keep them safe,” he says. “So people are going to be much more incensed by a smoke detector that burns down their house than a refrigerator that burns down their house.”

“I think it’s a lot like elections,” adds Dr. Hoption Cann. “A lot of people have opinions on who should be in power or who shouldn’t be in power, and then when it comes time to vote, a lot of people just don’t show up.”

All these factors can be potentially overcome by a basic economic principle — incentives.

Ohio has found some success offering weekly lotto prizes to those who have recently been vaccinated, and Manitoba has announced a pair of vaccine lottery draws for the summer months.

Asked about following Manitoba’s lead on Wednesday, BC Premier John Horgan said while he hopes incentives aren’t necessary, his government is not ruling out the idea.