$100 as a Vaccine Incentive? Experiment Suggests It Can Pay Off.

A cash reward works best with Democrats, and relaxing safety guidelines seems to motivate Republicans, a survey study shows.

By Lynn Vavreck

What’s the best way to persuade the millions of Americans who are still unvaccinated against Covid-19 to get their shots?

Reassuring public service announcements about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness have proliferated. But increasingly, people are realizing that it will take more than just information to sway the hesitant.

In recent randomized survey experiments by the U.C.L.A. Covid-19 Health and Politics Project, two seemingly strong incentives have emerged.

Roughly a third of the unvaccinated population said a cash payment would make them more likely to get a shot. This suggests that some governors may be on the right track; West Virginia’s governor, Jim Justice, for example, recently announced the state would give young people $100 bonds if they got an inoculation.

Similarly large increases in willingness to take vaccines emerged for those who were asked about getting a vaccine if doing so meant they wouldn’t need to wear a mask or social-distance in public, compared with a group that was told it would still have to do those things.

The U.C.L.A. project, which is still going on, has interviewed more than 75,000 people over the last 10 months. This collaboration between doctors and social scientists at U.C.L.A. and Harvard measures people’s pandemic experiences and attitudes along political and economic dimensions, while also charting their physical and mental health and well-being.

To assess the effectiveness of different messages on vaccine uptake, the project randomly assigns unvaccinated respondents to groups that see different information about the benefits of vaccination. Random assignment makes the composition of each group similar. This is important because it allows the researchers to conclude that any differences that emerge across the groups in people’s intentions to get vaccinated are a result of the messages each group saw and not of other underlying attributes.

Last October, one group saw messages that framed the benefits of vaccination in a self-interested way — “it will protect you” — while others saw messages that framed benefits in a more social manner: “It will protect you and those around you.” The subtle change did little; roughly two-thirds of people in both groups said they intended to get the shots.

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