Vaccination hesitancy — how to address it once we get to it

A plan. The Morrison government finally has a plan on how to get the country out of the mess in which it, and Labor premiers, have thrown it. It’s the old plan it has failed to deliver on so far which is the reason why the supply of vaccines is currently the problem and not the demand. But … there will be a time where vaccine hesitancy will become an issue and here are a few things that could be done to nudge those who are hesitant to do the right thing (and given the externalities that (lack of) vaccination entails that means people should get vaccinated lest they have really good medical reasons not to.)

Economic theory and empirical evidence suggest that both carrots ands sticks will be useful.

Among the high-powered incentives are privileges such as being able to travel again in more or less unrestricted ways. That’d be quite the carrot for many.

And it would allow, finally, … Aussies stranded abroad to re-unite with family, friends, and lovers. In fact, it should be something implemented right away since it is extremely low risk.

But high-powered incentives to travel to and fro the lucky country won’t be enough. Not everyone travels, or for that matter has the funds to travel. So what about those others?

Access to local activities could be similarly incentivized: Access, let’s say, to stadiums, or other sporting events, markets, bazaars, clubs, and even cafes/restaurants, could all be configured in ways that require successful vaccination. That’d be quite the stick, or carrot (dependent on how you look at it), for many. Relatedly, there is some evidence that vax badges on dating apps are very promising. Cool that.

There are other means. Lotteries (cash prizes) have been used in other jurisdictions and they may indeed be an excellent complementary strategy to the carrots and sticks already mentioned. As it is, lotteries have a long tradition of being used as a means to improve public-health outcomes.

An interesting suggestion made by Prof Doherty is in line with the interesting change in vaccination recommendations by the German equivalent of the ATAGI: Those who received first the AZ jab, should get either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for the 2nd jab. The evidence suggests that Australia should consider that strategy, or at least offer a mRNA-vaccine for a 3rd jab. The good professor suggested that the Aussie government should make clear that those given one or two shots of AZ can get an mRNA vaccine once others are vaccinated and there are surplus doses. That surely is quite an effective carrot.

I am less convinced that scare campaigns will do the trick; there is some evidence that the use of fear is ineffective in prompting the desired change in behavior. It is likely that they will be particularly ineffective in the current situation where younger folks have relatively little to fear from infection. In general, “a positive reinforcement approach may prove to be more effective than the use of fear.” But I doubt that in some such approach influencers and other sell-ebritries will be of much help, or that their help is desirable.

I am also not convinced that rabid sticks — such as mandatory jabbing, with punishment in case of non-compliance — should be seriously considered.

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …