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The Editorial Board: Cash incentives could move the needle on vaccines

The Editorial Board: Cash incentives could move the needle on vaccines

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Los Angeles hopes new mask mandate will reverse virus spike

In this July 1, 2021, file photo, visitors wear masks as they walk in a shopping district in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. A rapid and sustained increase in Covid-19 cases in the nation's largest county requires restoring an indoor mask mandate even when people are vaccinated.

How does New York State handle the spread of the coronavirus Delta variant?

Few of us want to see general mask mandates return. Mandating vaccines is necessary in some settings, but it generates pushback for a variety of reasons.

The Delta variant is threatening the unvaccinated, whose refusal is also holding back our communities’ efforts to gain herd immunity. The state and Erie County have tried incentive programs such as the county’s Shot and a Chaser initiative (free beer) and the state’s lottery ticket giveaway. With so many New Yorkers remaining vaccine-hesitant, it is time to up the ante.

Cash payments may offer a way forward. The federal government has already pledged or paid out billions in pandemic relief funds. Were the Biden administration to fund a vaccine incentive program – in other words, bribery – it could pay for itself in conquering the Delta variant and keeping thousands of people out of hospital beds and intensive care units, and keeping our schools and businesses up and running.

The New York Times reported on a survey experiment by the UCLA Covid-19 Health and Politics Project that found roughly a third of the unvaccinated population said that cash payment would make them more likely to take a shot.

Of the group offered $100 in the experiment, 34% said they would get vaccinated, while only 28% would if offered $25. The $100 figure seems like a good starting point.

Several states rolled out incentives in early May, including lottery tickets and gift cards. Most of them produced initial bumps in vaccination numbers, but the effects were short-lived.

We like an idea from Washington Post editorial columnist Charles Lane: The federal government could offer $250 to those signing up for shots within a week, but $25 per week less until the offer expires. (We’re flexible on the initial sum.)

Employers are also offering incentive programs. Aldi, Dollar General and Amtrak will compensate workers who get a shot with four extra hours of pay. However, vaccine statistics are barely edging up. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that 56% of residents have completed a vaccine series and 62% at least one dose. An estimated 70% to 85% is needed for herd immunity.

Flattening the curve was the early goal in 2020 for curtailing the spread of Covid-19. The flattening of the vaccine curve, however, is not a good thing.

Some conservative media commentators, including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham of Fox News Channel, have struck a chord with viewers by sowing doubt about the safety or efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. The threat of the Delta variant and slowing vaccine numbers have coaxed some Fox personalities, including Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy, to speak up this week for the importance of getting inoculated.

Though polling shows Republicans are less likely than Democrats to want to get vaccinated, political tribalism is just one factor among many for refusing vaccines. Among the hesitant are those who distrust all vaccines, those who oppose them on religious grounds, individuals frightened by vaccine conspiracy theories that spread on social media and others with medical conditions that don’t allow them to get Covid-19 shots.

Another faction is healthy young people who don’t feel threatened by Covid-19. They are not so much hesitant as indifferent to vaccines. News reports of younger people hospitalized after infection by the Delta variant show that no age is invulnerable.

Covid-19 has killed more than 600,000 in the U.S. The primary incentive for getting inoculated should be staying alive. Even throwing in free beer, doughnuts or lottery tickets hasn’t been enough. It’s time for the federal government to bribe the unvaccinated.

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