From herring to tricycles: How countries counter vaccine hesitancy


By AGENCY
  • Living
  • Tuesday, 13 Jul 2021

A health worker holding up a bottle of coronavirus vaccine in India. The country has started incentivising vaccines in order to persuade the hesitant to come get their jab. Photos: Zuma Wire/dpa

In a bid to overcome vaccine hesitancy in rural areas of India, authorities are offering everything from free fuel and seeds, to tricycles and cash in an attempt to get shots in arms.

As the country tries to counter the latest deadly strain of the coronavirus, officials want to speed up the country's vaccination programme. Hundreds of millions of doses have been distributed – and the race is on to protect people before they become infected.

In eastern Jharkhand state's West Singbhum district, businessmen and traders are being encouraged to provide incentives to customers who have been vaccinated, The Telegraph newspaper reports.

A petrol pump has started to give one litre of free petrol or diesel to customers who can produce certificates to show they are vaccinated, while some shopkeepers are giving a 5-10% discount to vaccinated customers above the age of 45.

In the countryside, meanwhile, free packets of seeds are being given to farmers who receive the jab. And at some vaccination centres, tricycles are being given to those who are physically challenged, West Singbhum deputy commissioner Ananya Mittal is quoted as saying.A health worker administering a dose of coronavirus vaccine to an elderly man during a free inoculation drive in India.A health worker administering a dose of coronavirus vaccine to an elderly man during a free inoculation drive in India.

"Incentives are helping us... people are now turning up at a faster rate, " Mittal says.

In neighbouring Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district, those who got vaccinated were given free tomatoes in April, triggering a rush of people to vaccination centres, Hindustan Times newspaper reports.

The federal government had also set up a scheme where people upload a photo of themselves receiving the jab plus a tagline, with rewards of 5, 000 rupees (RM280) offered to the 10 best entries each month.

From seeds to bikes, all these efforts seek to counter rumours circulating in India that the vaccine might cause severe reactions, infertility or death after several months.

District administrations in Jharkhand and other states are also carrying out intensive awareness campaigns in rural and tribal belts to explain the benefits of the vaccine.

India is not alone in providing incentives to encourage take-up of the jab – but the offers, meant to counter fear and disinformation that is rife in wealthy and poor countries alike, differ radically.

In the United States, there's free beer, while in China it's free eggs, and in Thailand and the Philippines, it's the chance to win a live cow, according to local media reports.People standing outside the closed door of a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India. In a bid to overcome vaccine hesitancy in rural areas of India, authorities are offering everything from free fuel and seeds, to tricycles and cash.People standing outside the closed door of a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India. In a bid to overcome vaccine hesitancy in rural areas of India, authorities are offering everything from free fuel and seeds, to tricycles and cash.

In other parts of the Philippines, shopping malls offer free parking and banana fritters to those who can prove they have received the vaccine, the Straits Times newspaper reports. Another city in the Philippines is raffling off 25kg of rice each week, with participants limited only to those who can prove they are vaccinated.

In California, meanwhile, the governor held a "Vax to Win" lottery. The programme, worth US$116.5mil (RM487.8mil), gave away tickets to sports events, surfing lessons, a trip to Disneyland and US$50 (RM209) gift cards to encourage its residents to get their inoculation.

The state also worked with partners to offer further incentives from fast-food restaurants such as Taco Bell and Chipotle, and discounts on basketball team merchandise from the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, Governor Gavin Newsom says in a statement.

Taco Bell gave out free seasoned-beef Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos to customers carrying vaccination cards at one location, while Chipotle offered residents free toppings or side servings of queso blanco at their Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants on certain days.

In the Netherlands, people are being encouraged with fresh herring, a national delicacy often served with chopped raw onion, that officials hope will persuade the populace to get the shot.

In a poll in December last year, some 40% of the Dutch population had said that they would choose not to be vaccinated – a major worry for the RIVM, the Netherlands' health institute.

While 14% were outright opposed to the jab, many others in that 40% were adopting a "wait-and-see" approach, says Anke Huckriede, a vaccinology professor at Groningen University.

As leaders worldwide weigh the benefits of incentives, in Germany, there's also talk in the opposite direction: fines for missing vaccine appointments.

"Anyone who is too comfortable to bother picking up the phone or making a few clicks to cancel an appointment should have to pay for the cancellation costs incurred, " says Thorsten Frei, who is deputy head of the conservatives' parliamentary faction.

A fine of between €25 (RM124) and €30 (RM148)) has been proposed for the appointments that fall through. Could the stick prove to be more effective than the carrot? Only time can tell.– dpa

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