Paying People To Get Vaccines: The Ultimate Economic Stimulus?

COVID Vaccine

Among the economic principles you’ll find in textbooks: People do what they find rewarding. That includes preventive health, where it takes some incentives to get them to engage in making healthier lifestyle choices, and in sticking with that behavior.

In the United States, as the vaccine rollouts loom, and as small businesses continue to struggle on Main Street, revisiting incentives may make sense – especially as stimulus packages continue to be debated on Capitol Hill.

The logic goes like this: Pay people to get vaccinated. That way, they’ll be quicker to return to the verticals that are suffering the most, especially from the lack of in-person traffic. Those verticals would include travel and hospitality, of course, and restaurants, too.

Restaurants, perhaps, might be among those sectors most urgently in need of a (literal) shot in the arm. As we reported earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated during testimony before the Senate banking committee that restaurants are in need of significant grants (not loans).

And herein lies an issue with endless rounds of stimulus that get funds directly into the hands of companies. The programs, meant to protect workers and keep firms staffed while they scale (slowly) into a new normal of post-COVID life, is largely a waiting game. Waiting for consumers to feel safe. Waiting for them to fully embrace in-person commerce. But that shift needs a push.

Consider the fact that in The Great Reopening report, PYMNTS found over the summer that more than 48 percent of consumers would need a vaccine in place before resuming pre-pandemic routines. Yet 68 percent of all those surveyed said they’d want to eat out at restaurants. The desire is there, but the certainty that it is safe to act on that desire is not there – not yet, anyway.

The question remains: Who will take the vaccine – and how to get more to do so?

As reported in the latest (fourteenth) study of a national sample of about 40,000 consumers who have given us insight since the pandemic hit home, most people (a majority, at more than 80 percent) are familiar with the vaccines that will be rolled out.

But PYMNTS’ research also showed that almost as many people say they definitely won’t or likely won’t get the vaccine, versus roughly 38 percent who said they would. That leaves roughly a quarter leaning “somewhat likely” toward getting vaccinated.

The question, then, is how to get that quarter firmly into the “will get vaccinated” column. (And it should be noted that about 40 percent of younger consumers, spanning the Gen Z, millennial and bridge millennial cohorts, won’t or likely won’t get vaccines).

If taking the medicine leads to a positive ripple effect for small businesses down the line, not taking it will have the opposite impact. The economy may lose as much as $8 trillion in economic output over the next decade as a result of the pandemic, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

In one proposal unveiled in a USA Today op-ed, former Democratic Congressman John Delaney of Maryland posited sending $1,500 checks to individuals upon proof of vaccination. The result would be an incentive expenditure of about $360 billion (supposing that 75 percent of individuals take the vaccine), which would be less than other stimulus/emergency funding rounds.

Incidentally, there’s a positive knock-on effect for payments companies and platforms. They offer, of course, the ability to deliver those payments directly to consumers and to enable other incentives – such as rewards, if you’re a CVS or Walmart (or another such firm) – to keep getting people to take the vaccine plunge.

Assign the numbers you like, and the net impact is the same: Incentivizing vaccine-positive behavior is good for public health – and business health, too.

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