As vaccines began to spread from laboratories during the pandemic, governments began to wonder: How can we encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated against Covid-19? Countries have tried different approaches: they’ve implemented strict public health messaging, engaged with hard-to-reach communities, gotten celebrities to plug vaccines and made them mandatory.
Those on the utilitarian side to say that if more people get vaccinated, the public benefit will outweigh any other harm. But there’s no guarantee that offering people money for a good deed will convince them to do it—it might even suggest the opposite, that the action isn’t worth it otherwise. A 2000 study A study of Israeli high school students found that when they were paid a small commission to raise money for charity on a given day, the group that earned the commission actually raised less than the group that was paid a pittance, suggesting that the monetary incentives had a detrimental effect on the desire to do good .
A major concern is that cash incentive programs may have unintended long-term consequences. If you offer people money to do a good deed for society, it may reduce their desire to do the same for free in the future. It can also cause mistrust. Unlike blood donation or other public health measures, vaccines are controversial. I studies have shown that in paid clinical trials, people associate higher payments with greater risk. Paying people to get vaccinated — when it used to be free — can make them overestimate the risks involved.
Finally, the ethics are murky. Ethics to argue that a cash reward doesn’t mean the same to a poor single parent who lost his job during the pandemic as it does to a comfortably employed middle-class person. The offer of money can be seen as a form of coercion or exploitation, as the single parent cannot reasonably refuse it. “The gun in the back works, but should it be used?” says Nancy Jacker, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
But the new work is published in the magazine Natureresearchers Florian Schneider, Paul Campos-Mercade, Armando Meyer and others have addressed these issues.