COVID-19 vaccine incentives could be required in Canada at some point: expert

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – One health expert believes Canada may eventually have to follow the lead of many U.S. states and start offering incentives to get enough people vaccinated against COVID-19.

Canada’s vaccination rate has already topped 50 per cent and demand continues to outpace supply. However, University of Ottawa epidemiologist Dr. Raywat Deonandan suspects that at some point, we may have to change tactics in our vaccination campaign.

“We’ll probably get there at some point if we want that final push toward herd immunity,” he said. “Right now there’s more demand than supply. And eventually we’ll run up against that wall of extreme hesitancy and skepticism. At that point we can start exploring some incentives.”

Some states south of the border are offering things like a ticket for $1 million lottery, free beer, free tickets to sporting events, or free transit passes. But Deonandan says these offers come with ethical dilemmas since they may be forcing people to do something they don’t want to do.

“If it’s a straight out cash incentive, what are you doing there? You’re just buying someone’s body for the afternoon. We haven’t won their hearts and minds over in terms of their acceptance of the signs of vaccination,” he explained. “It’s just that maybe they’re very poor and they don’t want the vaccine, but they really need that food, or they really need that money. So it’s a little bit of exploiting their financial vulnerability to your own greater ends.”

He does note, however, that there is an ethical way to do it. For example, Deonandan points to lotteries as a more reasonable incentive.

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But in all cases, he admits there are some ethical questions.

“The other part being is it fair to those who rolled up their sleeves willingly that other people are going to be incentivized when they didn’t need to. And along the same lines, is it possible that it creates the opposite effect? So people will start waiting until the incentives are offered before going to get vaccinated, even though they would have gone otherwise,” he said.

“It’s more of an economic analysis, risk versus reward, and incentives versus disincentives,” Deonandan added.

He notes there are models whereby incentives are offered for certain actions that work and have been used for years. However, Deonandan admits it’s a complicated question with no simple answer.

Multiple polls have shown a good majority of Canadians are willing to roll up their sleeves to get vaccinated against COVID-19 without any convincing.

The federal health minister’s office is not ruling out the possibility of offering incentives, but it’s also not showing any interest at this time.

“We will continue to provide Canadians with credible information on vaccines through multiple campaigns,” the minister’s office says in an emailed statement.

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