Vaccine incentives work, and Mr Morrison knows it - Op Ed, The Canberra Times


The Canberra Times, 9 August 2021

Just 16 per cent of Australians are vaccinated against COVID-19 - the second-lowest rate in the OECD group of advanced countries. According to the Grattan Institute's modelling, Australia needs to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population (or 90 percent of adults, if children are unvaccinated) before life can return to normal. The Morrison government's modelling sets a slightly lower target, with Phase C of its plan (which lifts all restrictions on outbound travel) taking effect when 80 per cent of adults are vaccinated.

Until now, the problem has been vaccine supply. Disastrously, the Morrison government refused to pay Pfizer around $1 billion in July 2020 to buy enough doses for every adult. The nation is now suffering lockdowns that are costing the economy billions of dollars in lost economic activity every week. The nation would be in a far better spot if the government had bought more vaccine doses from more vaccine suppliers.

But Mr Morrison assures us there will soon be enough supply of vaccine. Once that happens, the challenge becomes getting jabs into arms.

That's why Labor has proposed a $300 payment for everyone who gets fully vaccinated by December 1. Vaccination helps the whole community, so it makes good sense to encourage it. Just like spreading a virus is a public bad, getting a vaccine is a public good.

According to polling by Essential, 11 per cent of adults say "I'd never get vaccinated", while a further 27 percent say "I'd get vaccinated, but I wouldn't do it straight away". These worrying figures reflect analysis by economist Saul Eslake, who finds vaccine hesitancy in Australia is the highest among 14 advanced nations.

In the vaccination race, most advanced countries are way ahead of us, but no OECD nation has yet vaccinated 80 per cent of its entire population. The best performer is Iceland, at 75 per cent. Israel is at 62 per cent.

Britain and the United States - where vaccine supply is not a problem - have seen vaccination rates slow in recent months. Back in April, the US was vaccinating 3 million people per day. Now, it's around half a million. Vaccination rates in some southern states are so low that the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned "this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated".

In the race towards 80 per cent vaccination coverage, it was surprising to hear Mr Morrison call Labor's proposal for vaccine incentives "a bad idea", and even to absurdly claim that "financial incentives are likely to discourage vaccination". Weirdly, these attacks came from the same man who in July told a pub owner he thought free beer was a terrific vaccine incentive.

Careful research has shown cash incentives encourage vaccination. A recent randomised trial by researchers from Oxford University, the Queensland University of Technology and the Vienna University of Economics and Business found cash incentives boosted uptake by 53 per cent. The same study found vaccine lotteries had no impact in encouraging people to get jabbed.

Australia has long used cash incentives to encourage childhood vaccination. Indeed, when Mr Morrison was minister, he introduced changes to the "No Jab, No Pay"' scheme, touting it as "an important initiative aimed at boosting childhood immunisation rates". Asked in question time to explain how he could support "No Jab, No Pay" but oppose Labor's proposed $300 Covid vaccine incentives, Mr Morrison gave an answer summed up by former Liberal adviser Niki Savva as "convoluted, unconvincing gobbledygook".

In reality, the federal government provides a plethora of financial incentives to encourage people to do the right thing. There's the Mature Aged Worker Incentive, the Research and Development Tax Incentive, the Apprenticeship Incentive, the HomeBuilder Incentive, the Harvest Trail Incentive, and various renewable-energy incentives.

In the medical space, there's the Rural Doctor Incentive, the Private Health Insurance Incentive, the Bulk Billing Incentive and an incentive payment for general practitioners who vaccinate children who are behind on their immunisation schedule. Need I go on?

Incentives work. It's time we used them to get Australia vaccinated.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra

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  • Anthony Ashton
    commented 2021-08-09 17:08:28 +1000
    Really? About 20% of those examined in the Oxford preprint showed interest in getting vaccinated! So 53% of very little. From the Oxford preprint Abstract.
    "After seeing the control health information video, 16% of individuals wanted information on where to get vaccinated. This compared with 14% of those assigned to the lottery video . . . and 22% of those assigned to the cash voucher video . . .).

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