Vaccine mandate: Consider more incentives than disincentives

Published November 9, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin


With more vaccine jabs administered each day, and all cities in the National Capital Region (NCR) exceeding 70 percent of their target, there still remains a portion of the population who are hesitant to get the vaccine. Their reasons vary with some saying that they would want to wait for further studies or delay their visit to a vaccination site until their preferred brand is available.

The President, in his latest Talk to the People, seems to be impatient for the country to achieve herd immunity at the soonest possible time. One of the ways to fasttrack this is to “incentivize” the vaccinated citizens and to “disincentivize” the unvaccinated ones – the gist of vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.’s plan when he encouraged local government units to craft local ordinances to ensure people will get vaccines regardless of brands, making immunization mandatory.

Galvez also revealed that the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) will be “issuing a memorandum which contains a list of ‘incentives’ for vaccinated people and ‘disincentives’ for those unvaccinated to address the issue of vaccine hesitancy.” This comes after reports surfaced of empty vaccination sites when a particular vaccine brand is only available. Galvez also called on governors, mayors, and barangay captains to make local ordinances that will support the “no vaccine preference” policy so that all the excess vaccines in the government’s stockpile will be utilized. It should be noted that last Nov. 6, 2021, more than 860,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine arrived in the country, pushing the total jab supply to 110 million doses. Of that number, there are 47 million doses in the government’s warehouses. And at this crucial time when the country is starting to open up, every vaccine dose administered on someone’s arm is a “soldier” guarding against the creeping threat of an invisible and mutating virus.

The vaccine czar also noted that similar to the incentive/ disincentive scheme for the citizenry, LGUs with a high compliance rate would be rewarded, while sanctions may face those who will underperform.

This early, there were criticisms from different sectors regarding the “forceful” manner of the vaccination mandate. One group said that vaccination should remain voluntary and instead of forcing people to have jabs, the government should focus more on providing economic aid to those who were tremendously impacted. There were also issues on job discrimination among those who are unvaccinated, which the Labor Department said should not be a ground to terminate an employee.

The “incentive/ disincentive” scheme may prove to be effective in the short term but may further “alienate” those who are vaccine hesitant. It would be a “me versus you” scenario, which may not be ideal in the long run. What the government could do is to highlight the incentives more — more freedom of movement, more spaces to have access, more priority during lines, etc. for the vaccinated.

Disincentivizing a segment of the population may prove futile, as reinforcement is weak in our already “stretched-to-the-limit” frontline agencies, and people may find loopholes. The only way for this scheme to be effective is to have synergy between the public and private sector. It may be as absurd as giving a ticket to a raffle for vaccinated individuals to giving them a free slice of cake in restaurants. This may change the mind of an unvaccinated individual as this is more inclusive, which is better than being selective. Whatever that may be, the end goal is herd immunity and we must all do our share to make this happen.