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Experts Say Incentives To Vaccinate Work On Some But Not Everyone

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Vanguard, a money management company, is offering its employees a $1,000 bonus if they get vaccinated against COVID-19 by October.

This is just the latest incentive that many companies, and state and local governments, have offered to encourage the unvaccinated to get the shot. But it's not clear that these incentives always work.

"Certainly, we know that money motivates most, if not all people," said Prof. Bridget Calhoun, associate dean of Duquesne University's School of Health Sciences.

That's true, but would you get vaccinated for $100? How about $1,000 or the chance to win a million-dollar lottery?

"The use of incentives in the field of public health is nothing new or novel. In fact, we know it's a very effective strategy because it's a way to modify behavior," Calhoun told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday.

Calhoun said car seats, for example, have been given away to induce pregnant women to stop smoking. But do cash or gift cards work for vaccinations?

"We see some companies giving out very large sums of money to get vaccinated. We would expect a lot of people, on average, to respond to that," said Prof. Ulrich Jensen at Arizona State University.

Jensen has researched and written about vaccination incentives. He said for some, the message is more important than the money.

"What we found was that if you could speak to people's confidence in the vaccine, how good the vaccine is as a policy device to change the trajectory of the pandemic, help reduce transmission and community spread, help boost the economy," says Jensen, "then they are more likely to express being hesitant and more likely to say they want to get it."

Of course, it may depend on the politics of the individual. New York City, an overwhelmingly Democratic city, claims they saw a 40 percent jump in vaccinations after Mayor Bill DeBlasio offered a $100 gift card with each shot.

That might not work in a Republican stronghold like Mississippi, the nation's least vaccinated state.

Whether it's cash, paid time off or better education efforts, experts like Calhoun say, "Knowing your employees is very helpful and know what motivates them."

Of course, many employers and states choose to offer no incentives at all. And here's an interesting wrinkle. The state of Tennessee, with no incentives, has less than 40 percent of its people vaccinated, but it will pay farmers up to $1,500 to vaccinate their cows against respiratory diseases.

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