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'Money can actually put people off': Why a €150 vaccine bonus for under-25s may not work

The idea was mooted by a Fianna Fáil TD earlier this week.

Image: DPA/PA Images

A TD’S SUGGESTION that people aged under 25 should be given €150 to encourage them to get a Covid-19 vaccine has been dismissed as unnecessary by behavioural scientists from the Economics and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

At an ill-tempered Fianna Fáil meeting this week, 24-year-old TD James O’Connor said he is concerned about vaccine hesitancy among young people and urged the government to dish out the cash bonus to encourage them to get a jab.

Similar initiatives have been deployed in places around the world in a bid to boost vaccination rates. Lotterys have been introduced in several US states, with $1 million prizes on offer in some places. Others have made more mundane offerings, including free road tolls, state parks passes and fishing licenses.

However, behavioural data gathered by the ESRI indicates that vaccine hesitancy remains a fringe stance in Ireland, among all age groups, and suggested that the cost of such a scheme would likely outweigh the benefits.

Dr Shane Timmons of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit told The Journal that, among the very small proportion of people who are hesitant to get a Covid-19 vaccine, concerns about long-term side effects were found to be the main reason for their hesitancy.

The said financial incentives were unlikely to influence those with concerns about potential long-term health impacts, so addressing their concerns would have a much greater effect on changing their minds.

Another reason cited for vaccine hesitancy was that some people did not see the benefits of getting the shot, believing their immune system would be strong enough to deal with Covid if they did catch it.

“The data doesn’t suggest that incentives would be much of a reason for many people. We do have that small group – or subgroup of a subgroup – who say ‘there’s no benefit to taking the vaccines’, so maybe if you put a benefit there that would encourage them,” Dr Timmons explained.

But we are really looking at a tiny, tiny proportion of people, so the cost of that scheme might outweigh the benefits.

The behavioural expert said there is very little evidence that conspiratorial thinking, such as the anti-vaccine rhetoric that is prevalent in some countries, has gained a strong foothold in Ireland.

Further to financial incentives convincing very few people to receive a vaccine, Dr Timmons said there is evidence from other areas of behavioural economics which suggest it could even have a negative impact.

“When you introduce money as a reason for doing something, it can conflict with other reasons and can actually put people off,” he said.

When it comes to doing prosocial behaviours, people actually don’t like to be paid for it because it kind of removes the ‘self worth’ reason for doing those kinds of actions.

Dr Timmons noted that the latest Social Activity Measure (SAM) data had detected a very marginal uptick in vaccine hesitancy among younger people, however the figures remain so small that it may be caused by “statistical noise”.

The latest SAM report, published yesterday, found that the large majority of unvaccinated people in Ireland intend to get a jab as soon as it is available to them.

A significant majority are happy to take whichever vaccine is offered to them, but around one in every six people say it depends on what type of shot they are offered. People in this group show a strong preference for the Pfizer vaccine.

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A recent survey found that Ireland had the lowest level of vaccine hesitancy in the European Union. Data from the Amárach Public Opinion Survey also found that 82% of people aged under 35 would get a Covid-19 vaccine if they were offered it.

Concerns about potential long-term health implications have consistently been cited as the main cause of vaccine hesitancy among the small portion of people in Ireland who are reluctant to get the jab. 

The HSE says the best way to allay these concerns is by countering common myths and misconceptions about the vaccines.

It notes that healthcare professionals are the most trusted sources of information on health and vaccines.

The health service added that skilled communication by healthcare workers about vaccines matters and skilled communication with a trusted healthcare professional can strongly influence vaccine acceptance. 

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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