By Peter Coy | Bloomberg
Economists have suggested paying people to get a Covid-19 vaccine, but there’s never been a survey to find out whether payments would work. Now there is, and the results are … murky.
A Harris Poll conducted Nov. 19-21 asked about 2,000 Americans how much the government should pay if it were to pay people to get a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. Of those, 24% mentioned sums of $100 or less, 16% mentioned higher amounts.
Most, though, indicated that money wasn’t a motivator. Thirty-nine percent said they would get a Covid-19 vaccine even if the government didn’t pay anything, while 23% said the opposite: They wouldn’t get a vaccine even if they were offered payment.
Economist Robert Litan, a Brookings Institution nonresident senior fellow, proposed in August that the federal government pay people $1,000 to get vaccinated. In the Harris Poll, only 7% of respondents mentioned that sum or more.
It’s hard to draw a straight line from the poll to policy. How people answer a hypothetical question is only loosely connected to how they would behave in a real-life situation—cash in the palm for a needle in the arm. Money might be more effective than the poll indicated, or less. Adding to the uncertainty, Harris didn’t directly ask people how much they personally would need to be offered, instead asking, “If the government were to pay people to get a Covid-19 vaccine, how much do you think they should pay each person?”
Clearly, though, paying people to get jabs rubs a lot of Americans the wrong way. Before asking people to name dollar amounts, Harris asked them if they believed the government should pay people for shots at all. Only 44% said yes, 56% said no.
John Gerzema, co-chief executive officer of Harris Poll, says this survey and previous ones tell him that many Americans are torn between fear of a vaccine and a sense of civic duty to get inoculated.
Gerzema also points to wide gender and racial gaps on vaccines. When Harris asked if the government should mandate vaccinations, 56% of men but only 40% of women said yes. Earlier, a Nov. 13 Harris Poll found that 69% of men but only 52% of women said they were likely to get a vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Similarly, 62% of White Americans but only 46% of Black Americans said they were likely to get a vaccine as soon as it becomes available.