Research suggests Gov. Walz’s vaccine incentive program won’t work

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced the “Kids Deserve A Shot” incentive program. Under it, kids who get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in the next month will get a $200 cash prize. The aim is to encourage more of them to get vaccinated.

Will it work? The governor was noncommittal on this question: “These incentive programs at least generate buzz around it, and gets people talking about and getting it done.” Research suggests this is not the case.

A new paper from economists Tom Chang, Mireille Jacobson, Manisha Shah, Rajiv Pramanik and Samir B. Shah investigates whether:

…financial incentives, public health messages and other behavioral nudges –approaches deployed by state and local governments, employers, and health systems – increase SARS-CoV-2 vaccination rates among the vaccine hesitant in the US

“In mid-2021,” they explain:

…we randomly assigned unvaccinated members of a Medicaid managed care health plan to $10 or $50 financial incentives, different public health messages, a simple appointment scheduler, or control to assess impacts on SARS-CoV-2 vaccination intentions and vaccine uptake within 30 days of intervention.

They found that:

While messages increased vaccination intentions, none of the treatments increased overall vaccination rates. Consistent with backlash concerns, financial incentives and negative messages decreased vaccination rates for some subgroups. Financial incentives and other behavioral nudges do not meaningfully increase SARS-CoV-2 vaccination rates amongst the vaccine hesitant. [Emphasis added]

The subgroups in question — where financial incentives reduced vaccination rates — were “older individuals (ages 40 and over) and those indicating that they supported Trump in the 2020 presidential election.” Since neither of these groups are targeted by the ‘Kids Deserve A Shot’ scheme, we shouldn’t see it cause vaccination results to decline. But neither, this research suggests, should we expect to see it increase vaccination rates at all.

The money dedicated to this scheme might well generate some “buzz,” but it seems unlikely to generate greater rates of vaccination.