Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has been the site of a major COVID-19 vaccination program, which includes offering residents $5 cash after they get their vaccine.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday that residents are being offered $5 instead of a usual incentive of coffee and a snack.
“When we do immunizations for the flu, for example, we provide coffee and some food and other things, but that is not possible right now,” he said.
“So what we’ve been doing, in some cases, is offering small compensation so people can go and get coffee afterwards, in that case $5 or gift cards.”
Jeremy Hunka of Union Gospel Mission said they have no concerns about the incentive.
“The threat of COVID-19 is so grave and so ever-present for our community that we really can be pulling out all the stops,” he said.
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Dix called the incentive “practical” and left the door open when asked if similar incentives will be available to other sections of the population.
“As we do public health in areas of the province we’re going to try and find a way to try and incentivize people to engage and it’s a challenge,” Dix said.
Dix said more than 5,100 people who are homeless in the Downtown Eastside have been vaccinated on top of more than 2,100 staff who work at resource centres.
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BC Liberal health critic Renee Merrifield said the incentives raise questions about transparency.
“Finding out through media rather than government makes us uncomfortable,” Merrifield said.
Financial incentives for vaccinations have been debated by ethicists and economists.
Economist Robert Litan, a Brookings Institution non-resident senior fellow, said financial incentives for vaccines offer the shortest path to herd immunity and compared it to doctors giving out candy to children.
Ana Santos Rutschman, a professor at the Center for Health Law Studies of Saint Louis University, argued that if governments paid people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, social media may turn around that messaging and “weaponize it.”
Santos Rutschman also called the idea of offering financial incentives “paternalistic” and assumes that low-income populations are easily persuaded by money.
— With files from Katie Dangerfield