Brief # 109 – Health and Gender Policy

Covid Vaccination Incentives; Do They Violate Ethics?

By Siam Bhimji

June 14, 2021


Policy Summary 

As of May 2021, nearly 172,423,605 Americans, or 53% of the population has received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine. Of these, 141,583,252 Americans or 43% of the population have been fully vaccinated. But that leaves at least over 110,000,000 ADULT Americans who still have not been vaccinated. Surveys indicate that close to 51% of the adult population is refusing to be vaccinated for a variety of reasons. President Biden has stated that he would like at least 70% of American adults to have had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by July 4. But with less than 3 weeks to go, it hardly appears that his goal will be achieved.

So what is being done to mass vaccinate the population?

One of the ways to encourage Americans to get the vaccine is by offering incentives. To this end, many innovative incentives are being used to seduce Americans to get the shot and they include free donuts, free medical marijuana samples, free college tuition for a semester, cheaper airline tickets, the state of Ohio has a $1 million lottery ticket, discounted groceries, free tickets to sports games, cheap beer, free $100 cash and much more….


So far it is not known if the incentives are working because they have just recently started but most Covid Injection centers do not report longer lines of people waiting for the shot. Experts on the other hand indicate that incentivizing is only a short-term solution and may conflict with ethics. For example, in order to get the individual to get the vaccine, offering marijuana or free beer is not right; it is just substituting one harm with another.

However, in the business world, incentives are often given as a recognition of the worker’s productivity and this often results in a positive behavior change.

The two big questions about incentives are: 

1) a how much, and

2) is cash payment a step in the right direction?

When it comes to financial incentives, it may be that poor people desperate for money may feel pressured to get the shot or in other words, their poverty is exploited. At the same time, it is also well known that financial incentives for unemployed or poor people often do not generate positive behavior. During the Covid pandemic the government started giving out huge amounts of money to people who had lost their jobs or could not work, but this noble endeavor has led to severe negative consequences. With government handouts of $300 a week, there is a shortage of workers in most of the hospitality industry. Why work for $7.50 an hour (or $300 a week), when the government offers the same amount for free????

Experts in ethics say that incentives should motivate behavior change but not alter the autonomy or decision-making status of the individuals.

At the end of the day, an incentive may buy cooperation for one day or one event, but it does not get to the core reason why the vaccine was refused in the first place. The problem will persist and there may be more obstacles with the 2nd booster shot.

The bottom line is that people who remain hesitant about the vaccine do not seem to understand the basic concepts about health or science and no amount of money is going to change that. Today $100 may buy a vaccine shot but tomorrow the same individual may demand $1,000- and then what?

Engagement Resources 

CDC; Vaccines for COVID-19:

FDA: COVID-19 Vaccines:

Find a COVID-19 vaccine near you:

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