For Canadians reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, financial incentives from organizations might motivate individuals to get their first dose. Some Canadian organizations, such as the University of Lethbridge and DLGL Technologies, are offering a financial award for individuals who provide proof of inoculation.
On Friday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said “we want to leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting as many people vaccinated as possible, given the huge health and social benefits.”
“I have asked our health department to consider some of those creative incentives for people to get vaccinated,” Kenney says. “At this stage, we are about to relaunch a fresh marketing effort, we are setting up temporary clinics, reaching out to employers of large work sites, trying to break down barriers to accessing vaccines.”
The University of Lethbridge is offering nine students free fall tuition worth about $3,500, as an incentive for those who receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and complete an entry form before Sept. 8, 2021.
University president Mike Mahon previously told Global News that the school is not making vaccinations mandatory to attend, but notes the contest is a great idea to encourage people to get their shots.
DLGL Technologies, a company based in Quebec, is also offering employees who provide proof of the vaccine a $2,500 bonus, giving $1,250 for each shot.
Timothy Caulfield, a Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, says the incentive approach is more complex than many people suspect.
“We are seeing these kinds of incentives from all over the world,” Caulfield says. The research shows us that incentives can work, but is unlikely to work with those who are hard-core deniers, he says.
“Those individuals that have really strong reasons [and] beliefs as to why they don’t want to get a vaccine.
“Where I think incentives can be helpful is that movable middle — those individuals who are either complacent or haven’t got around to it,” Caulfield says. “Adolescents are an important cohort in this context.”
Important caveats such as dealing with equity and access issues, and making sure that companies incentivize the right message should be addressed before offering them, the U of A researcher suggests.
“You want the incentive to be pro-social.”
Health economist Jeff Round says that we use incentives such as creating high taxes to reduce smoking rates, and weight reduction programs because of the significant downstream potential to health-care costs.
“It is hard to get those incentives done right, especially in complex cases,” Round says.
“From a pure economics perspective, you could probably increase vaccination rates by offering some kind of incentive.”
The health economist says there’s a motivation for people to get vaccinated beyond their own health, but for government to get them vaccinated for the health of others.
“This is an exceptional time, and we need to take exceptional measures.”
Zohreh BayatRizi, a sociology professor at the U of A, says financial incentives might help some age or political groups that are more skeptical than others roll up their sleeves.
“I don’t think you can have, in this pandemic, a one-stop solution to all of the reasons why some people are reluctant,” the sociologist says.
“Generally, it depends on why people are reluctant to get the vaccine,” she says. “For anti-vaxxers, no amount of financial incentive will work. I don’t think $100 or $2,000 is going to make a difference in those people’s opinion.”
The risk financial incentives can create is making a two-tiered system differentiating those who get the vaccine and those who don’t.
The downfall of offering financial incentives for inoculation is the problem of creating a system that excludes people who are already excluded for other reasons, Round says.
“People who are experiencing homelessness, for example, may not have a chance to get a vaccine, or it may not be easy to reach that group.”
Round says the risk lies in further entrenching existing disparities. This two-tiered system can be present in other societal situations.
“We have this gatekeeping mechanism where we don’t let certain people in, whether it’s people under a certain age buying lottery tickets or alcohol,” BayatRizi says.
Caulfield says incentives don’t have to be purely financial to work. Softer incentives such as easing restrictions if individuals get vaccinated is an example.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Alberta’s Open for Summer plan on May 26. Stage 1 of reopening will begin on June 1. Stage 2 will begin two weeks after 60 per cent of eligible Albertans have received at least one dose of vaccine and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are under 500 and declining.
The premier says as soon as Alberta starts to see a significant decline in first dose demand, he will consider more options like financial incentives.