How do we make sure that enough people get vaccinated to end the pandemic?
After a season of doubts, in the middle of an ongoing horror, there finally seems to be hope ahead. Not just the hope generated by the election and its outcome, but the hope of vaccines that can finally bring the nation—and the world—out from under the cloud of COVID-19. Both the mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer and that of Moderna have reported efficacy rates of nearly 95%. The vaccine created by Oxford and manufactured by AstraZeneca appears to be not quite so effective, but still better than many hoped at the outset, and there is still data to be crunched. Behind these are coming vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, and Novavex, and Inovio, and dozens of others.
As the calendar turns toward 2021, it seems that there really will be multiple safe and effective vaccines available. Fears that it might be impossible to build an immunity to the new coronavirus, and that the world might be consigned to an endless cycle of surge after surge, have proven unfounded. Right now, in November 2020, cases are still rising, hospitals are overrun, and there is a real chance that the way a pandemic-exhausted nation has treated the Thanksgiving holiday will spin off a truly bleak December. But it’s going to be okay. We’re going to make it. The vaccines are going to be there. Now how do we get people to take them?
That a fair percentage of the public isn’t in a hurry to get their jab is understandable, even in the face of the obvious threat. It’s been a year in which Donald Trump pushed quack remedies like hydroxychloroquine, in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines were overwritten by political expediency, and in which pundits constantly second-guessed medical experts. There was a real and justifiable fear that vaccines might be rushed into production that were either unsafe or ineffective and given a fast stamp of approval for political rather than scientific reasons.
This doesn’t appear to be the case. At this point there’s still analysis to be performed on all the candidate vaccines. Only Pfizer has submitted their case to the FDA, and no vaccine has been granted emergency approval. But there is no apparent reason to believe that approval is not coming soon.
However, to effectively crush the pandemic and return the nation to a state approximating the relatively carefree “before” times, the U.S. needs a very high participation rate in the use of vaccines. The promise of near-safety from the disease is a powerful incentive. However, in order to drive the vaccination rate to nearly 100% among adults capable of receiving a vaccination, some additional impetus might be a good thing.
At the minimum, those receiving a vaccine might get the needlepoint equivalent of an “I voted” sticker. Wearing one wouldn’t be mandatory, of course, in case people don’t want to signal their status versus the vaccine; or in case, God help us, there is some faction that decides it would be great to verbally or physically attack those getting a vaccine. Still, some kind of token seems as if it might be in order—something that could be more lasting than a sticker. A bit of cloth that might one day find itself stitched into a quilt, or sewn onto a grandchild’s jacket. Something that says “I was there through the night, and I helped bring in the morning.”
Maybe companies, stores, and individuals could be persuaded to join in a program around that item of recognition. Bring in your “I vaccinated” emblem and get 10% off your coffee or 20% off your meal. Local establishments in particular might be on board with this as vaccination isn’t just critical to getting communities back on their feet, but vital to allowing cafes, restaurants, shops, and bars to operate at anything like their normal capacity. It’s probably not a great idea to allow those who have been vaccinated to be exempt from wearing a mask—even 90% efficacy is, by definition, not a sure thing—but a free bagel on Tuesdays wouldn’t be that great a threat to their health.
The surest way to get people to sit down for two jabs with a needle might be the simplest: Pay them. Make getting vaccinated, or a medical certificate explaining why vaccination isn’t possible, a requirement to pick up another round of stimulus checks.
Or do all of the above. Absolutely there are downsides, and there is nothing that can be started in this country without a small group explaining how it’s the “number of the beast” or “like communist China” or both. But I can see pulling out a little card, maybe something with a logo that, if you look at it just right, seems like a virus being obliterated in sunshine, and taking home a donut from a vendor who thinks a new day is not so far ahead.
Oh, and I also know “reward” means the same thing as “remuneration.” I just ran out of “R” words. Now, let’s all practice good hunkering, and wait for dawn.