West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, told his staff last week he wanted every idea they had. It didn’t matter how crazy or outside-the-box their proposals were. Justice was growing desperate to find some way of persuading his residents to get the coronavirus vaccine.
It wasn’t until days later that the wildest proposition of all popped into Justice’s head: give young people a $100 savings bond if they get vaccinated.
West Virginia was about to receive federal pandemic funding for testing, protective equipment and economic relief. Why not just take some of that money and offer it directly to people to line up for their shots?
“It seems pretty well designed,” said Alison Buttenheim, a behavioral scientist who studies vaccine acceptance at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing. “We as humans are very present-biased creatures, which sometimes makes preventive measures hard to sell because the reward is in the future. What the $100 does is brings the reward into the present.”
Others expressed doubts. Jonah Berger, a University of Pennsylvania marketing expert, said financial incentives work when the barrier is financial – such as missing a day at work. But if the main barrier is mistrust, “monetary incentive is not necessarily the solution,” he said.
Iwan Barankay, a business expert also at the University of Pennsylvania has researched using financial incentives to push people into better health and said such financial perks don’t always work.