Beer, cash and credit: How other countries are using incentives to combat vaccine hesitancy

(Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)

Though people across the globe are praying for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, many are still reluctant to get a jab to fight it. Doubts over the vaccines’ efficacy and safety linger in several places, including Thailand.

Recognizing that reluctance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine could torpedo efforts to achieve herd immunity, some nations are now offering incentives for people to get a shot.

Here are a few of “sweet offers” available around the world.

Cash and alcohol dangled

The United States, which began its vaccine rollout last December, has launched a variety of “benefits” for those still wary about the jab. In New Jersey, the “shot and a beer” program kicked off this month at participating breweries, with the newly inoculated handed a free beer as a reward.

Also, banking on the power of a free drink is Connecticut, where restaurants are offering a free alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage to residents who get jabbed this month.

In Michigan, a marijuana dispensary has launched a “Pot for Shots” promotion, offering free pre-rolled joints to anyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine.

In Maryland, state employees are being handed a $100 (Bt3,140) bonus if they agree to be vaccinated.

US employers have jumped on the bandwagon, desperate to keep their businesses running smoothly. Train company Amtrak is giving vaccinated employees two hours of bonus pay, while the Kroger grocery chain is dangling $200 of store credit, which can be converted into cash.

Vaccine incentives are emerging in a bid to reach the 70-85 percent inoculation required for a population to reach herd immunity – when the disease stops spreading.

So far, barely 56 percent of American adults have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Outside the United States, Serbia is promising its citizens the equivalent of Bt940 if they get vaccinated.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who received a Sinopharm jab last month, insisted people willing to be vaccinated should be rewarded but branded those who refuse as “selfish” and “irresponsible”. Vucic also decreed that non-vaccinated state employees are not eligible for sick pay if they contract COVID-19.

Serbia to offer cash to those who get Covid vaccine

Serbia’s president said on Wednesday his country would pay each citizen who gets a Covid jab before the end of May, in what could be the world’s first cash-for-jabs scheme. The Balkans country bought millions of doses, from Western firms as well as China and Russia, and briefly became a regional vaccine hub when it offered foreigners the chance to be inoculated.

Other incentives

An overseas study shows many people can be swayed even by “vaccine incentives” that don’t come in the form of cash or “freebies”. On average, easing rules on face masks and social distancing increased the likelihood of vaccine uptake by 13 points.

Celebrity endorsements have also proved successful.

Meanwhile, to boost public confidence in the vaccines’ safety, several country leaders have stepped up to take the first jab.

Slow uptake in Thailand

So far, only 10 percent of the priority vulnerable group have registered for Thailand’s vaccine rollout next month. The government opened vaccine booking for 16 million vulnerable Thais on May 1. Those eligible include people aged over 60 and those suffering from certain chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity. As of Sunday morning, only 1.55 million had put their names down for a COVID shot.

As in the US, this low uptake has triggered concern over the mission to achieve the much-desired herd immunity that will eradicate the virus.

Last year, a Gallup survey found 85 percent of Thai respondents were willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. However, following a few reports of side-effects from the jabs, many appear to have changed their minds.

As of May 10, 1.8 million people had been vaccinated against COVID-19 in Thailand, most of them are medical personnel and residents of high-risk areas. The majority have received China’s Sinovac vaccine. While a few recipients have been hospitalized with side effects from the jabs, no vaccine-related deaths have been reported in Thailand so far.

The government has promised to pay hefty compensation of Bt100,000 for vaccine-related injuries or chronic illness, Bt240,000 for disability or organ loss, and Bt400,000 in case of death or permanent disability.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk

Explainer: Thailand’s vaccine plans and rollout timeline

About 1.3 million Thais have been vaccinated by the Thai government so far, with over 510 ,000 people having received both doses of either Sinovac’s CoronaVac or the AstraZeneca version , mainly the former .

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