Financial rewards lead to higher vaccination uptake

Modest financial rewards can help increase COVID-19 vaccination rates. This is the conclusion of an international study co-lead by Swiss universities, based on data from Sweden.

The prospect of a reward not only increases vaccination intentions, but actually leads to more vaccinations. (Photo: iStock/South Agency)(Photo: iStock/South Agency)

Despite countless appeals from politicians and scientists, stagnating vaccination rates hamper the containment of coronavirus. Many countries are now considering monetary incentives as means to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Four percentage points higher vaccination rates

A study just published in the journal Science indicates that they could be on the right track. In the study, the research team reports that a large-scale trial in Sweden succeeded in increasing the vaccination rate by four percentage points with a bonus of around CHF 21 (200 Swedish kronor). The promised reward helped raise the already high rate in the trial from 72 percent to 76 percent.

“Our study shows that financial incentives can increase vaccination rates, even in places – like many EU countries – where they are already high,” says behavioral economist and co-author Dr. Armando Meier. The study included scientists from the universities of Basel, Lausanne, Zurich and Unisanté in Lausanne along with other research institutions in Europe and the US.

Financial incentives work

The study was conducted between May and July 2021 with a representative sample of around 8,300 people between 18 and 49 years old. As soon as a vaccination was approved for their age group, the study participants were asked through an online survey whether or not they intended to get vaccinated.

Participants were then randomly assigned to five different groups. The members of the first group were promised a financial reward if they got vaccinated within 30 days. In three of the other groups, the scientists used other methods in their efforts to increase the vaccination rate, such as sharing information on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and emphasizing that vaccination helps others. Participants in the last group, which served as a control group, were not offered anything. The researchers checked whether the individuals had actually been vaccinated against coronavirus in the following 30 days through an anonymous linkage with data from the Swedish health authorities.

“Nudges” have little effect

The research team found that the prospect of a bonus not only increases the declared vaccination intention, but actually leads to higher vaccination uptake. This held true regardless of the gender, income and age of the participants.

By contrast, other methods with which the researchers attempted to influence the behavior of the participants were less successful. These included asking participants to name people close to them whom they could protect by getting vaccinated. While these “nudges” increased intentions to vaccinate in the short term, like information and reminders, they ultimately failed to translate into higher vaccination uptake.

Co-author Dr. Florian Schneider notes: “The results put into perspective the fear that financial rewards are counterproductive and could deter undecided individuals from getting vaccinated – by fueling suspicion, for instance.” On the contrary – even modest monetary incentives can have a positive effect on the vaccination rate.

Source: University of Basel

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