by Keisha Ray, Ph.D.
With Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/National Institutes of Health producing a viable vaccine for COVID-19 (along with two other companies on the precipice of also producing viable vaccines) and with distribution set to begin in just a few weeks for many health care providers, people have questions about when they will receive the vaccine. The New York Times has created a vaccine calculator in which you can input information about yourself such as your age and whether you have pre-existing conditions which make you vulnerable to COVID-19, and other information to then get an estimate of when you can expect to get the vaccine. On the CDC website the agency has answered a series of questions about the vaccine, including questions about the cost of the vaccine (no cost to the individual, although some providers can charge an administration fee that can be covered by public and private health insurance or government relief fund for people without insurance). Whereas some information about the vaccine seems to be well communicated to Americans, and there appears to be some consensus about some aspects of the vaccine, if you have spent any time on social media lately, like me you may have seen some disagreements about how to get people to take the vaccine.
Although the CDC has not officially declared a set percentage of people who need to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to achieve herd immunity to the virus, in the United States it has been estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of Americans or 200 million Americans, would need to have COVID-19 immunity for there to be herd immunity. Again, as of yet the CDC hasn’t stated the number of people needed for the virus to be less rampant, but we surely need more people to get vaccinated than then the only 58% of Americans who said they would get the vaccine. We need as many Americans as possible to get the vaccination to put an end to thousands of Americans dying daily and for life to return to some sense of normal, i.e. for mask mandates to end, businesses to reopen, stay at home orders to end, etc. But how do we get people to take the vaccine? Here are a few proposed methods that have been floating around in the past few weeks.
Would You Get the Vaccine if Airlines Required it?
One way to get people to take the vaccine that is being discussed is to require people to show proof of vaccination before flying. Although the intent may be to encourage safe travel and not transmitting COVID-19, requiring people to show proof of vaccination before flying would encourage people to get the vaccination. Australia’s largest airline Qantas Airways has said that it would require passengers to be vaccinated if they take any of their international flights. Although it is suspected that U.S. airlines will also require proof of vaccinations before travel, so far Qantas Airways is alone in their stance as Airports Council International want passengers to have a choice between testing or vaccination, worrying that requiring proof of vaccination to travel would discourage people from traveling. It might be controversial for airlines to require vaccination against COVID-19 before travel, but it would be an effective way to force people to be vaccinated given the number of people who travel. If people want to fly then they will get vaccinated and given that flying is a speedier form of travel when compared to car, bus, or train, people might do it just to take advantage of traveling by airplane. This method of forcing people to get vaccinated if they want to fly may only target certain kinds of people, however, namely those who have the financial means to fly and the kinds of lives that allow for leisure or business travel.
If Presidents Got the Vaccine, Would You?
Recently, past U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have stated that they would take the COVID-19 vaccination while being filmed and broadcasted to the American people if it would encourage people to trust the vaccinate and get the vaccine for themselves. Former president Jimmy Carter has also publicly stated his support for the vaccination. Recently, president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris have also said they would get vaccinated while being filmed to encourage Americans to also get vaccinated, however, president-elect Biden has also said that the vaccination will not be mandatory in the U.S. Having U.S. presidents take the vaccination could encourage people who are skeptical to take the vaccine. Presidents should set examples for the American people and for people in other countries. If they take the vaccination they will show that the vaccination can be trusted and that science can be trusted. Hopefully, people follow their lead.
Additionally, speaking of trust, we also have to find ways of encouraging people of color to take the vaccination. Medicine, health care, public health programs, and the American government have proven to be untrustworthy to people of color and have a poor history of neglect and abuse of Black, Latinx and Indigenous Americans. These populations have also been hit hard by COVID-19 and the economic effects of the pandemic, contributing to their suspicions of medicine and the government. Determining what people and organizations should be responsible for properly communicating the safety of the vaccination and listening to needs of these communities is essential to encouraging them to take the vaccine.
Would You Get the Vaccine in Exchange for a $1500 Stimulus Check?
Former Congressperson John Delaney (D-Maryland) has suggested another means of encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19-give people a $1500 stimulus check in exchange for taking the vaccine. Delaney rationalizes that paying people to get the vaccine will incentivize people and help us get 75% of Americans vaccinated. He also notes that Mexico and India give people resources such as money, food, and/or housing in exchange for vaccinating their children. Delaney estimates that his plan would cost $380 billion but believes having more people vaccinated is worth the price tag. One obstacle in the way of fulfilling his plan is that currently the House and the Senate cannot agree on another stimulus plan. As a part of their negotiations, one point of contention is distributing another round of stimulus checks to Americans. If the House and Senate cannot currently agree to just help people pay their bills during a pandemic it is unclear if they could agree to pay people to take the COVID-19 vaccination.
Having as many people as possible get the COVID-19 vaccination is necessary for us to end the current pandemic. Everyone is ready to hug their family, spend time with friends, attend weddings, safely put their kids in schools, and just generally enjoy life. But the fewer people who get the vaccine the longer these joys of life will be out of reach. Instead we will continue to have record number of people dying from COVID-19. But how we get people who are skeptical of its safety to take the vaccine is a growing concern. We have to find ways to reach people. In some instances, requiring vaccinations to participate in public activities may work. In other instances, showing people its effectiveness and safety may work. Whatever method we choose, we have a lot riding on reaching out to people who are suspicious and in many cases rightfully distrustful of medicine and the government.