DEBATE: Is it time to pay people to get the vaccine?

Sam Bowman and Bella Wallersteiner

May 17, 2021

Sam Bowman, Director of Competition Policy at International Center for Law and Economics, argues YES

The UK has had spectacular vaccine take-up so far, and has the highest rate of willingness in the world. However, the small number of people who do not take vaccines still put the rest of us at risk by increasing the chance of a vaccine-resistant variant arising, and because even the best vaccines do not give complete protection against Covid. The outbreak in Bolton might be a sign that we need even greater adoption than we have now, especially if younger people do not take up vaccines as enthusiastically as their parents and grandparents have.

So we should consider rolling out incentives to get the hold-outs to take vaccines. Two examples are cash payments and lotteries. A cash payment would be simple: £100, say, to each person who has been vaccinated or gets a vaccine. A lottery like the one the state of Ohio is doing for people who’ve been vaccinated would be cheaper, and could be enough.

These could be the inducement that the last remaining 2-3 per cent in each age group that has been offered a vaccine needs, and both help to overcome whatever misplaced fears they have about the vaccines, and protect the rest of us from them. A flat, one-off cash payment is a small price to pay for nationwide immunity.

It’s crucial that any reward should go to people who’ve already taken a vaccine, though, and maybe be even greater than whatever we give to people who haven’t. We mustn’t set a precedent in future epidemics that there’s a benefit to holding out.

Bella Wallersteiner, Senior Parliamentary Assistant for a Conservative MP, argues NO

Now that the vaccine is readily accessible to the most at risk age groups and will shortly be made available to adults as young as 35, it’s probably safe to assume that adults vulnerable to Covid who are still unprotected prefer it that way.

The public knows that the vaccine protects them, their families, their neighbours and our economy. The vaccine is safer than many things in life which are second nature to most people, including driving a car or drinking alcohol. Furthermore, vaccines provide us with the only reliable passport out of the nightmare of repeated lockdowns and repressive restrictions.

Why should the government offer a bribe to those who have made a free choice not to have the vaccine? The benefits to individuals and to the community are self-evident and should incentivise everyone to queue up for a jab: we should not be using public money to reward selfishness.

Ministers have other levers available to them to increase acceptance among minority groups which have the lowest take-up rates. The Government can ramp up its public information campaign, stressing the benefits of lifting all remaining restrictions after 21 June.

More targeted responses include health officials and volunteers visiting non-compliant households to urge them to get vaccinated. But if having been repeatedly offered protection, members of the public still refuse a jab then the Government has to accept that it has reached the limits of its powers.

There is a growing dependency on the state to provide cash, services and incentives for everything in society. This infantilisation reduces us to ciphers of the state and needs to be resisted at all costs. In matters concerning individual health, members of the public are entitled to use their personal judgement and live with the consequences of their choices. It is not for the state to save the vaccine hesitant from themselves.


Written by Sam Bowman and Bella Wallersteiner

Sam Bowman is director of competition policy at the International Center for Law and Economics. Bella Wallersteiner is a senior parliamentary assistant to a Conservative MP.

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