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Opinion: Pay people to get vaccinated? It might be worth a shot

In a recent editorial, USA Today proposed five ways to persuade Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine. One suggestion was particularly intriguing: have the federal government pay people to roll up their sleeves.

“Yes, this would pay tens of millions of people who’d receive the shot anyway,” the newspaper said. “But if it established herd immunity and ended the pandemic, while boosting the economy in the process, it would be worth it.”

USA Today isn’t alone. The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley notes that several high-profile economists like the idea of using pay as an incentive. The list includes Nobel Prize winner Paul Romer and N. Greg Mankiw, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under former President George W. Bush.

In August, Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution suggested offering $1,000 to 275 million Americans to take the vaccine. That huge price tag — $275 billion — would represent just a fraction of the trillions spent thus far in the fight against COVID-19, Riley notes. Any overpayment, Litan argued, “is simply part of the price Americans would have to pay, given our deep political divisions.”

Indeed, like just about everything else today, politics colors views on the vaccine, at the national and local levels. A poll conducted in September by Oklahoma City-based Amber Integrated showed Democratic and independent voters were considerably less interested in a vaccine than they had been three months earlier. The percentage of Republicans willing to get vaccinated stayed about the same in both polls, but was just 45%.

Overall, the poll found, only 46% of likely Oklahoma voters said they would get a vaccine once it became available, down from 55% in June. That’s concerning.

The low figures here and elsewhere likely reflect skepticism about the vaccines themselves, which were developed with remarkable speed — although drug makers Pfizer and Moderna say their vaccines are about 95% effective — and antipathy toward the federal government. Whatever the reason, far more than half the population needs to get immunized against COVID if we hope to defeat the virus.

Three former presidents — Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — have said they would publicly get the vaccine to help in the PR effort. Getting celebrities and star athletes to do the same might help sway public opinion, too.

Like the other states, Oklahoma has created a plan for dispensing the vaccine. It has four phases, bedginning with long-term care residents and staff and front-line medical personnel, and eventually getting to the broader population of residents. With any luck, summer 2021 will look much different than this one did.

However, as Riley wrote, “Immunologists like to say that it isn’t the vaccine that saves lives, it’s the vaccination program. The first-order problem is making sure enough people get with the program.”

If writing a check helps with that, then doing so is worth considering.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›