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Incentivizing COVID-19 Vaccinations

Would you be enticed to get vaccinated if you’re uncertain of the COVID 19 vaccines, perhaps because of their efficacies, side effects reported by the media, or political views related to them?

Canada has not reached this state yet of trying to convince its people to get vaccinated. With the present shortage of vaccines and plans to distribute 300,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson put on hold as of April 30th due to oversight in the cleaning and sterilization process, thereby opening the possibility for cross-contamination, Health Canada has yet to determine if these vaccines are safe to be administered to Canadians. On the other hand, our southern neighbour’s supply has exceeded the demand for the vaccines. As of yesterday, April 30th, a couple of large vaccination sites in the US had closed down. There simply were no more people showing up in the area. To date, 100 million adult Americans have been vaccinated out of 332+ million population, nearly 40%. NYC is set to open on July 1st, ready for the July 4th celebration, and the US Centre for Disease Control issued a statement relaxing the mask mandate in most states. The US is now using the mask-wearing outdoors as a talking point for patriotism. If you perform outdoor activities without a mask, provided you’re still practising physical distancing, you’re showing that vaccines work. And that equates to patriotism. Why? By being vaccinated, you care about society as a whole, not just yourself.

Vaccines work. Yet, there will always be people who prefer to wait and see, skeptical of vaccines and critical of health directives. Vaccine hesitancy has been identified by the World Health Organization in 2019 as one of the top threats to global health. The US has moved from advising Americans to follow public health measures to get that vaccine into every arm of its people.  It is realizing that manufacturing the vaccines was easier than making approximately 80% of the entire population head to the vaccination sites. About 5 million Americans are reported to not be getting the second dose. It seems photos of prominent politicians, including presidents, past and present, as well as those of famous celebrities posing for their vaccinations are not sufficient because now the country is on a campaign to incentivize people with material things like $100 in state bonds by West Virginia, raffles of $10 $150 meal plans and 10 $350 bookstore scholarships by University of North Carolina, two hours of pay by Amtrak to its employees, Krispy Kreme free doughnut a day for the rest of the year, free popcorn by Chagrin Cinemas Cleveland, ten cents beer to the first 2021 adults who can show a completed vaccinated card to Market Garden Brewery, and a free pre-rolled joint to anyone over 21 who can show fully vaccinated status to Greenhouse of Walled Lake in Michigan. ATT, Instacart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Chobani, Petco, Darden Restaurants, McDonald’s and Dollar General all offer time off and extra money to employees who get vaccinated. Publix offered a $125 gift card after the second dose. Krogen grocery chains offers $100 store credit plus another $100 outright payment to employees who get that jab in their arms.

Not all US companies are on board with offering incentives to get their employees and customers vaccinated. Eighty-eight percent are unsure or have no plans to offer any form of incentives. Bryan Tovey Organization says that being involved with an employee’s medical decision is a slippery slope while Get Golden Visa is concerned with the liability issue, given the litigious reputation of the US. A quarter of employed Americans, however, would consider vaccination if offered a cash bonus or a stipend, says the Society for Human Resources Management in Forbes Digital post of January 16, 2021. In a separate survey in January 2021 by Blackhawk Network of 2,000 American adults, first choice came up with more than 2/3 of workers accepting as little as $10 to as much as $1,000 to get vaccinated. The other 1/3 mentioned $100 or less. Second choice: money plus time off.

The American Civil Liberties of Illinois stated on April 27, 2021, that both government and businesses have the power to impose vaccinations, if justified by data, adding that the right to refuse on religious grounds is not absolute if it hinders society from reaching community immunity, in which case, “the government has the right to insist on vaccinations”.

In its December 15, digital post, DLA Piper issued a statement that Canada does not legally require its citizens to be vaccinated with two exceptions: BC, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario require school-age children to present their vaccination cards before sitting in their classes and mandatory vaccinations are required of health care workers as of 15 years ago.

While Ontario grapples with a surging third wave and a shortage of vaccines, it hasn’t focused yet on the possibility of offering incentives to the uncertain. Manulife may be one of the few that has offered 400 vitality points to group benefits members and individual insurance customers when vaccinated. Perhaps there’ll be more in the coming weeks as we try to achieve that much-needed herd immunity to reach some measure of normalcy. The new variants have elevated the bar for this goal. With the flu virus, a herd immunity of 60 to 65 % sufficed but with COVID 19, the percentage to be acquired is higher – something in the range of 85 to 90% because of the variants and their transmissibility, according to Dr. Supriya Sharma, Chief Medical Adviser of Health Canada. Herd immunity can be achieved in two ways: through vaccination or through infection and subsequent survival from this virus. Eleanor Fish, a senior immunologist of UHN Toronto, enumerates factors that can impact herd immunity beyond vaccination rates, namely, asymptomatic transmission, extended time between vaccine doses which in my case is 3 months and 20 days, and level of infection previously infected Canadians have against the new variants. As I write this, India is experiencing catastrophic deaths from COVID 19 and the presence of an Indian variant is evident. Whether or not this variant is now present in Canada remains to be seen. Travel may be the culprit.

Incentivizing and not mandating vaccinations on the uncertain is the ideal situation to achieve herd immunity. But what is ideal is not the same as what is real when it comes to vaccination rollouts.

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