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Commentary: Why are some countries giving people freebies to get vaccinated?

Bribing citizens to get jabbed is not stupid – but it’s just depressing to see it reduced to the level of a discount item, says the Financial Times’ Robert Shrimsley.

Commentary: Why are some countries giving people freebies to get vaccinated?

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccination as part of a Tel Aviv municipality initiative offering a free drink at a bar to residents getting the shot, Feb 18, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Corinna Kern)

LONDON: Perhaps we should brand them French Pfize.

Last week, the mayor of New York used a press conference to promote a burger chain’s offer of free fries to vaccinated citizens and a voucher for a burger to anyone who got a COVID-19 jab at certain mobile units.

This was bad on so many levels. For one thing, we’ve tried to teach the spawn not to speak with their mouth full.

And yet there was Bill de Blasio grunting “Mmmm, vaccinations” as he chomped away.

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More importantly, however, you have to wonder about someone who has held out against being vaccinated but caves at the promise of free French fries.

It’s not as if it’s even a large portion, just regular — just a boring standard portion of chips with your life-saving medical miracle.

What a swizz. Surely agreeing to be protected against a killer virus is worth a milkshake as well. Who’s doing who the favour here?

There are, to be fair, some better offers. A New Orleans seafood joint was giving a pound of boiled crawfish to anyone using a particular walk-in centre, while the governor of Ohio announced a special lottery in which five adults could each win US$1 million and five kids could win free college tuition.

A commuter receives a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during the opening of MTA's public vaccination program at a subway station in the Brooklyn, New York on May 12, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Frankly, this has left me feeling pretty cheesed off. No one offered me any free crawfish when I selflessly agreed to have my life saved by the state.


Even so, I think vaccine refuseniks can push this a bit further. They need to think carefully before cashing in and saving their lives. I mean, do you really want to sell your continued good health so cheaply?

I sense a bit of desperation creeping in here: It could be worth holding out a bit longer for the really good bargains.

There could be some far bigger prizes round the corner — a week in Disneyland, a new car, tickets to Knicks games, a weekend at Mar-a-Lago as the guest of Tucker Carlson.

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It would be a shame to sell yourself short when the best deals are still being held back for the truly obstreperous.

Of course, in a lot of cases the companies offering rewards to anyone with a jab are primarily engaged in a marketing strategy rather than an exercise in public good.

Shake Shack, Krispy Kreme and the numerous hot dog, pizza and beer companies proffering perks are also thinking about getting people into their stores and shifting product.

With Shake Shack, for example, the free fries are contingent on you also buying a larger-ticket item. 

(It is, incidentally, touching to see so many businesses with a vested interest in not tackling obesity doing their bit to help us survive a virus that disproportionately targets the overweight.)

A woman gets a shot of vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Usce shopping mall, where the first 100 vaccinated will receive a discount voucher worth 3,000 dinars ($30.74) secured by mall's management and retailers, in Belgrade, Serbia, May 6, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Marko Djurica)


Other places, including China, Dubai and India have also dabbled with rewards for jabs, although at least Dubai’s offer of a fortnight’s free gym access retains the message discipline of linking healthy behaviours.

At the time of writing, the UK, where vaccine take-up is very high overall, has largely resisted any official bribes beyond the chance to luxuriate in the benign smile of Matt Hancock, surely incentive enough for anyone.

Ultimately, the wider goal is maximising the numbers who receive a vaccine, so perhaps one should welcome any small thing that helps. But, passing over the commercial aspects of this, it is slightly sad to see politicians trying to bribe voters into getting jabbed.

When it was just businesses offering a freebie, it might be seen as a part of the general celebration of re-opening, though it is a little harder in places where whole generations are not yet eligible to receive either jab or fries.

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You can see the politicians’ point if it helps pull a few extra per cent of slackers into getting the jab. The plan is not stupid; it is just depressing to see vaccination reduced to the level of a discount item or a lightning sale.

At some point, certain acts need to be held up as good in their own right. As they might have said in the old days: We are saving your life and your job — what else do you want? Jam on it?

(Are COVID-19 vaccines still effective against new variants? And could these increase the risk of reinfection? Listen to the full conversation with Profs David Matchar and Gavin Smith on on CNA's Heart of the Matter podcast.)


Source: Financial Times/sl


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