Should Americans be paid to get COVID-19 vaccine? Idea gains steam among some experts

Chacour Koop
·3 min read

Should the government pay people to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

It’s an idea making more noise lately.

While vaccine candidates are proving to be highly efficacious, they’ll only be effective at returning life to normal if at least 75% of the U.S. is immunized, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNBC recently. However, a recent poll found 58% of Americans say they will get a coronavirus vaccine.

Citing this apparent uncertainty, former Maryland congressman and Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney advocated for paying people who are vaccinated $1,500, according to an op-ed published this week by The Washington Post.

“The solution is simple: Pay people to take a covid vaccine. The vaccines are likely to arrive at the same moment Washington is, belatedly, taking up much-needed stimulus legislation,” Delaney wrote. “The timing couldn’t be better: Money would go into Americans’ pockets just when the U.S. economy can begin fully reopening with a vaccinated population that can go about their daily lives without fear of catching the disease or infecting others.”

Delaney’s idea isn’t new.

In August, Robert Litan, an economist and attorney in the Bill Clinton administration, suggested in a Brookings Institute article to pay $1,000 to Americans who get vaccinated. Litan recognized opponents of a payment scheme will argue it rewards people for being uncompromising and that many people would agree to be immunized without an economic incentive. After all, the CDC says a coronavirus vaccine will be free.

But the price for the initiative will be worth it, Litan wrote.

“If the nation doesn’t get to herd immunity once the vaccine becomes widely available and has been independently validated, we’re all out of luck: the economy will continue to struggle with a weight on its chest, and American society won’t get back to normal,” Litan wrote.

Litan estimated his proposal would cost $275 billion to pay 80% of the U.S. population. Delaney said the cost of paying every adult $1,500 would cost $383 billion. By comparison, the CARES Act legislation that included $1,200 stimulus checks to most Americans and direct aid to businesses cost $1.8 trillion.

Julian Savulescu, a philosophy professor at Oxford University, published an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics in support of a cash or in-kind payment. He wrote paying people to get a vaccine is superior to other options, including penalties, withholding benefits, community service or loss of freedoms.

Other experts are wary of paying people to vaccinate, warning it could backfire.

“Trying to pay people to take the vaccine suggests there’s something wrong with the vaccine,” Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, told Healthline. “It’s not going to address their suspicions and doubts. It’s going to inflame them.”

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health bioethics professor Nancy Kass told Healthline the focus should be on messaging, and the number of unsure Americans will decrease when they see others unharmed by the vaccine.

“Over time, people will have the opportunity to watch as medical workers, first responders, nursing home workers, teachers… hundreds of thousands take the vaccine,” Kass told Healthline. “Once it all looks OK, maybe people will relax their shoulders a bit and think it’s OK to get the vaccine.”

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