Society of Bioethics and Medicine
Want $100? Get Vaccinated.
Written by Pooja Suganthan
Edited by Kelvin Wu
Nearly all current Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations consist of unvaccinated Americans. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that “if you are not yet vaccinated, you are among those at highest risk” (Berkeley Lovelace Jr, 2021). As the Covid-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, and states begin to return to a new normal, government and company officials alike are working to raise vaccination rates among Americans.
One noteworthy approach is the implementation of Covid-19 vaccine incentives. For example, New York City’s incentive program allows eligible vaccinated New Yorkers to choose prizes such as a $100 prepaid debit card, free tickets to NYC attractions, or gifts sponsored by partnering companies (City of New York, 2021). Organizations can even sign up with the city to encourage community members to get vaccinated and earn referral bonuses for each first dose.
Similarly, employers are aiming for a fully vaccinated workforce to re-establish in-office operations, while prioritizing workers’ safety. Many often have their own incentives and prize pools for vaccinated employees. For example, McDonald’s provides paid time off for employees to get vaccinated, while Kroger offers a $100 bonus when employees show proof of vaccination (Jane Heidingsfelder & Jacob J. Pritt, 2021). Unsurprisingly, these vaccination mandates have triggered negative backlash. Many anti-vaccinators, fueled by misleading political figures, accuse President Biden’s vaccination efforts as authoritarianism. Some have even gone as far as comparing the stigmatizing effect of vaccination mandates on the unvaccinated to that of Jewish victims during the Holocaust (Ishaan Tharoor, 2021).
However, these accusations of dictatorship do not equate to encouraging incentive programs. Based on a review of vaccination campaign strategies and their effectiveness, “mandatory vaccination policies are effective measures to achieve high overall vaccination coverage” (Schumacher et al., 2021). The U.C.L.A. Covid-19 Health and Politics Project found that approximately ⅓ of unvaccinated individuals were more likely to get a vaccination for a monetary reward. Other high ranking incentives included not having to social distance and/or wear a mask in public. When looking at political alignments, it was found that Democrats seemed to prefer a monetary reward, while Republicans preferred relaxed cautionary guidelines (Vavreck, 2021).
Despite this encouraging data, some argue that workplaces should not mandate vaccines because it discriminates against those who are not vaccinated for medical or religious reasons. In May, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidelines on vaccine mandates and incentives for employers. The EEOC states that employers may mandate the Covid-19 vaccine, while accommodating for those with religious and disability exemptions. At the same time, employers may incorporate incentives and ask for proof of vaccination for incentive eligibility. These guidelines do not discriminate against unvaccinated individuals because the EEOC requires that employers must provide arrangements for unvaccinated employees, such as mandating masks and social distancing in the workplace or allowing remote work options.
Rather than solely focusing on vaccination rates, it is important to supplement vaccination mandates and mass vaccination sites with promotional campaigns and educational material to ensure that participants understand the purpose of the vaccine and its significance. Therefore, as we move forward in vaccination efforts, it is worthwhile to implement vaccine incentive programs, as demonstrated by existing workplace programs, New York City’s vaccine incentives, and research from previous vaccine campaigns, while continuing to ensure that Americans are educated on their decision to get the Covid-19 vaccine and are not blindly following the crowd.
Berkeley Lovelace Jr. (2021, August 24). CDC study shows unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/24/cdc-study-shows-unvaccinated-people-are-29-times-more-likely-to-be-hospitalized-with-covid.html City of New York. (2021). COVID-19 Vaccine Incentives. NYC Covid-19 Citywide Information Portal. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coronavirus/vaccines/vaccine-incentives.page Ishaan Tharoor. (2021, August 2). The growing clamor for—And against—Vaccine mandates. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/02/clamor-against-vaccine-grows/ Jane Heidingsfelder, & Jacob J. Pritt. (2021, July 23). EEOC Allows Covid-19 Vaccination Incentives: What to Know. https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/eeoc-allows-covid-19-vaccination-incentives-what-to-know Schumacher, S., Salmanton-García, J., Cornely, O. A., & Mellinghoff, S. C. (2021). Increasing influenza vaccination coverage in healthcare workers: A review on campaign strategies and their effect. Infection, 49(3), 387–399. https://doi.org/10.1007/s15010-020-01555-9 Vavreck, L. (2021, May 4). $100 as Incentive to Get a Shot? Experiment Suggests It Can Pay Off. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/04/upshot/vaccine-incentive-experiment.html
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