Vaccine hesitancy: how can governments increase uptake?

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– Governments worldwide are looking to incentivise the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines

– Israel’s “green pass” system grants greater public freedom to vaccinated citizens 

– Some companies have paid their staff to receive inoculations

– A delay to the vaccine rollout could halve global growth this year

As the world continues its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, governments and companies alike are looking at ways to grow vaccine acceptance.

Israel, which has stood out as a global leader in administering Covid-19 vaccinations, was among the first countries in the world to offer incentives for those willing to be inoculated.

In February the country introduced its “green pass” system  granting exclusive access to gyms, hotels, theatres, concerts, sporting events and indoor dining for those who had received two doses of a vaccine – as the government began to reopen the economy.

The green pass plan seems to have had a positive effect, with more than 60% of the population having received two doses of the vaccine, the highest national rate in the world, as of April 10.

The system has also provided benefits beyond the country’s borders: Greece and Cyprus have both announced that Israeli citizens with a green pass are free to visit without an obligatory quarantine upon arrival.

Israel’s strategy appears to have formed a model for other governments, with officials in Hong Kong announcing on April 12 that they are considering the establishment of “vaccine bubbles” that would allow vaccinated people greater freedom of movement and an exemption from certain social distancing rules.

Elsewhere, as OBG has detailed, in Thailand it was announced that, as of July 1, fully vaccinated foreigners visiting the popular holiday island of Phuket will be exempt from mandatory quarantine.

In addition to governments, some businesses have also sought to encourage their employees to register for Covid-19 inoculations.

A number of companies operating in the US  such as American Airlines, McDonald’s, retail store Target and supermarket chains Aldi, Kroger and Lidl  are offering staff either payments or paid time off work if they can show proof of vaccination.

Carrot or stick

While a number of countries and regional governments have offered incentives to encourage vaccination, others have taken a slightly firmer approach.

In February local authorities in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta warned that residents who reject Covid-19 vaccines could face fines of up to Rp5m ($342) or be refused social aid.

This is in response to considerable vaccine hesitancy in the country. According to a December poll from local agency Saiful Mujani Research, just 37% of respondents stated that they would be willing to receive a vaccine. Some 17% said they would refuse and 40% had not yet made up their minds.

Elsewhere, Singaporean officials have promised that vaccine supplies will not be held for those who delay or reject their vaccination appointments, while in South Korea people have been warned that they will be pushed to the back of the queue if they refuse a jab.

The cost of vaccine hesitancy

The drive to increase vaccination rates comes amid concerns that a delay could result in considerable health and economic costs.

In March researchers from Imperial College London estimated that hesitancy around Covid-19 vaccines could lead to an additional 236 deaths per million people over a two-year period.

The research found that the mortality rate in countries with high rates of vaccine hesitancy could be eight times higher than in those with an ideal vaccine uptake.

Indeed, South Africa’s Bureau of Economic Research stated that, although infection rates had stabilised in recent months, a delay to the vaccine rollout could lead to a possible third wave of infections in the country.

In terms of economic fallout, in January the World Bank released a report that predicted that full-year global growth for 2021 could fall from an estimated 4% to 1.6% if the rollout of vaccines is delayed and the rate of infection rises.

This is a particularly pertinent issue for emerging markets, with many having experienced significant economic shocks last year as a result of the pandemic. According to the World Bank, significant delays to vaccine rollout could severely hamper their recoveries, potentially reducing growth from 5% to around 3%.

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