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Incentivising vaccines

Vaccine scepticism and misinformation is an undeniably significant challenge that all ongoing inoculation campaigns must sooner or later face. Ensuring the optimum success of such campaigns involves creating the necessary environment where everyone possible is 'persuaded' to get the vaccine. An obvious way of persuasion is to offer small incentives to go along with the shot. The typical incentives that are being offered or have been considered, range from gift cards to beers. Most of these incentives are being offered by private companies to compel their employees. Experts have advised caution when it comes to providing incentives because too little of an incentive is unlikely to actually persuade a sceptic and too much of an incentive can be taken to be coercion. Thus, giving the poor money to get vaccinated, for instance, can be a tricky situation.

Israel, which is leading the world in terms of the inoculation drive, is trying out something different. It has decided to give extra rewards or privileges to those who vaccinate in the form of a vaccine green pass. As Israel opens up now, its shops will be accessible to one and all. But, if you should want to have access to gyms, bars, restaurants, cinema halls, hotels, etc., you'll have to display your green pass which is only given after the second shot of the vaccine has been administered. Additionally, there is also a plan in the future to allow green pass holders to travel more freely by removing the quarantine period after travel. The government is confident that this green pass is going to not only be a constructive step towards total normalisation at the end of three strict lockdowns but also the best incentive to persuade vaccine sceptics to get the shot in order to not be left out. There are just a few problems, however.

First, as an incentive, the green pass is somewhat problematic. Similar measures have been considered elsewhere including in Germany but not yet adopted due to ethical concerns. The obvious concern is that creating exclusive privileges for those who choose to vaccinate, in some way, infringes upon freedom of choice and the principles of equality. As a German ethics commission stated, such measures open a backdoor to the government, making vaccines mandatory by just making the downsides of not getting one apparent and prohibitively restrictive. Depending on which side of the argument regarding compulsory vaccination you stand for, this measure could be considered draconian or long overdue. The biggest barrier to using such a privilege system is that there simply is not enough data right now to conclusively say that those who have been vaccinated cannot spread the virus. In absence of more detailed studies, giving such privileges can be premature and problematic. The German ethics commission in question advised the government to hold back for the moment but did not specifically recommend the government to not introduce such incentive structures for vaccines at all. It also mentioned that the government also cannot stop private companies from coming up with such incentive structures of their own volition.

Finally, in regards to the Israeli green pass system, there is an obvious and emerging threat of such passes just being duplicated or otherwise obtained illegally. Apparently, this is already happening, with there being online groups on the social media app Telegram that are engaged in dealing with this fake vaccine certification. While it is obvious to expect that criminal elements will always seek such lucrative opportunities in times of crisis, the government apparently did not make it difficult for them. Security experts who studied the green pass say that it is based on a simple, non-encrypted QR code that is easy to forge or otherwise duplicate. Israeli authorities claim to be aware of this and have stated that a simpler version was pushed out on trial to simply hasten things along and that a more robust, internationally accepted version of this green pass would be released soon. In the meanwhile, those caught with fake vaccine certification will be given steep fines.

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