Yesterday, self-isolation rules for those with Covid-19 were cut to five days. This marks a milestone as the UK plots its way out of a gamble of a winter strategy to keep the virus at bay. The enduring problem, however, is the number of unvaccinated people in the UK filling up hospital beds.
The risk of a new variant which evades our vaccines is always possible. As such, there must be a coherent plan in the palace to ensure the longevity of the jab program.
There are some who would suggest that we should simply lock up the unvaccinated. This would be both deeply draconian and highly illiberal. There is limited evidence to support the use of vaccine passports or justify the burden they would instill.
Instead, we should be focusing on the carrot approach, incentivising people to get vaccinated or boosted by giving them rewards. The extreme anti-vaxxers may still hold out, but there is a great deal of evidence showing it could push up the vaccination rates for the reticent.
The simplest method would be just to pay people a modest amount of money to get the vaccine and a booster. In Sweden, trial participants were given 200 kroner (about £16) to get a jab and it resulted in a four per cent increase in vaccination rates. This isn’t huge – but it is significant, especially with already high vaccination rates.
We could of course be more generous than the Swedes. In the US, for example, newly vaccinated people were offered $100 to get vaccinated while one State set up savings bonds for young people who got jabbed. Both of these schemes have been effective.
There have also been vaccine lotteries offering vast sums to the lucky winner either in the form of a cash payment, a new car, or for college tuition. Again, these led to an increase in vaccination rates on basic principles of behavioural psychology. In some countries this has come with a bizarre everyday twist; China has offered a free box of eggs, Russians can get an ice cream, or Indians a blender. In one US state, free cannabis was even on offer. While these measures might seem gimmicky, given how relatively inexpensive they are if they encourage just a handful of people to get jabbed it would have been worth it.
This must form part of the plea to live with Covid-19. Only when the unvaccinated protect themselves can we be sure of our strategy. Many may rankle at the thought of rewarding the currently unvaccinated, but it is too easy to tarnish them all with the same brush of the views of crazed anti-vaxxers. Some people do have some legitimate concerns about getting jabbed; not those who peddle conspiracy theories, but those who worry that the side effects might mean they miss a day’s work. In the US, President Biden promised to reimburse small and medium sized firms for any sick pay, and people were offered $50 to drive their friends and neighbours to get jabbed.
We could also extend the rewards to those already vaccinated – a kind of Eat Out to Help Out system for jabs. Australian airline Qantas offered free loyalty points to be used on flights with proof of vaccine. In the UK, proof of vaccination could get you 10 per cent knocked off a meal out, or a pint in a pub, or of a trip to the cinema with the bill being footed by the government.
A steady vaccine program will be the steely inner core of making Covid-19 endemic and as any coupon clipper will tell you: the small things can go a long way.