Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Audrey Hinchcliffe | COVID-19 vaccination inducements: A new public health dilemma

Published:Thursday | July 29, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Audrey Hinchcliffe
Audrey Hinchcliffe
Public Health Nurse Gracia Lafayette prepares to vaccinate Marcia Francis with the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Arena on April 3.
Public Health Nurse Gracia Lafayette prepares to vaccinate Marcia Francis with the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Arena on April 3.

THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic is a public health matter which calls for a higher standard of leadership for public engagement and behaviour change. It is well established that there is no cure for the disease – COVID-19 - caused by the virus, so what is aimed for, is the control of the spread of infection.

Happily, there is now the approval of vaccines for the inoculation of individuals against the virus and for enough takers in order to arrive at herd immunity, which is when a high level of vaccinations is reached within the population to resist the spread of the disease. Simply, a large portion of a community (the herd) takes the vaccine, which makes the spread of the virus from person to person unlikely, hence the vulnerable age groups in a community is protected.

However, the arrival of vaccines is accompanied by conspiracy theories, myths, and naysayers, fuelling anti-vaxxers, and thereby putting herd immunity in jeopardy. In an effort to attract the respective age groups to take the vaccine, a sustained public education programme must be deliberated to meet the public health goal of herd immunity. But instead of the health education, the myths and conspiracies got out in front of the health message. So, efforts must now be made to convince people, particularly vulnerable groups, that the vaccine is the most effective tool for protection against the virus-causing disease at hand, which is COVID-19.

But why is this such a struggle when we have previous examples to draw on? Is it because these were mandatory during infancy and one had to show the vaccination card, (now the passport) to be enrolled in school? Yet COVID-19, with a public face of sickness and death, is not enough to even scare us to stand in line to receive the jab.

So, in the absence of mandating that the specified vulnerable population take the vaccine, there is recourse to inducement, or called by other names – incentive, coaxing or enticement, etc. This is a public health dilemma, nations are embarking on a dangerous path, where persons are being relieved of responsibility for their personal health and wellness. If COVID-19 does not scare us straight, then nothing will. The inducement may attract a few, more for greed rather than need.

The prevalence of cancers, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic diseases warrants attention as well. Compared to COVID-19, dangerous as it is, you either recover or die. Yes, it may also leave some longer-term effects, but when compared to living with comorbidities (multiple chronic diseases), the latter deserves inducements, incentives - or by whichever name you wish to call it – which in some cases borders on bribery.

‘Vaccine tease’ screams as a Gleaner headline (March 10, 2021). This is about a $10,000 grant for vaccinated seniors, effective July 15, to reward Jamaicans 60 years and older who have taken the vaccine.

I would not blame this only on the failure of the authorities to convince the elderly about the vaccine safety; I dare say, it is the failure of a coherent message to educate the population on the value of taking the vaccine. What is the programme in place to educate rather than resorting to incentivising – you can call it any other name; it becomes a public health dilemma when persons have to be paid to accept responsibility for personal health and wellness. Those of us with diabetes and hypertension who slavishly take our medication qualify for a reward as well. I am not holding my breath, though.

Right after Jamaica’s vaccine tease comes word that ‘Antiguans are being offered land to get vaccinated’. A parcel of land measuring 8,000 square feet is an inducement for persons to be vaccinated between June 7-30 in order to qualify.

Further afield, for example in New York, incentives include ‘Joints for jab’ - a ‘joint’ is a marijuana cigarette; then some places offered free beer, pot, and doughnuts; free fries. Then there was saving bonds and a raffle ticket for a snowmobile. Places all around the USA are offering incentives to try to energise the nation’s slowing vaccination drive – at least there was a drive.

What is unfortunate was to see the mayor of New York digging into his own meal of fries. Since when are fries a good symbol for health?

Leaders seem to have lost their mind with inducements (or bribery); by what other name is a $1-million lottery prize (Ohio). Yes, Governor DeWine, it is a crazy misuse of taxpayers’ money.

I refer you to Google (https://people.com>health): ‘The Best COVID-19 Vaccine Freebies, Prizes, Rewards and Incentives.’ This is all in the name of ‘protecting yourself and your loved ones against COVID-19’. Have it your way! Incentive to go, get the jab and a reward after you have received the jab.

Where is the public health response? I understand that usually when one hears of public health dilemma it is about scarcity of resources, allocation of responsibilities, ethics, and lack of accountability. These call for policy changes in the face of the pandemic.

I am taking licence to add bribery for vaccines. What is needed is public education and my hobby horse - a coherent communication strategy. Over to you, public health practitioners, you have an added dilemma on hand.

To my fellow senior citizens, and all who will listen, don’t wait for inducements - wear your mask, wash your hands, walk wide, and above all, take the jab when your time comes.

M.A. Hinchcliffe is CEO and founder, Manpower and Maintenance Services Ltd Group. Email: c olumns@gleanerjm.com, ceo@manpowerja.com