The vaccine programs launched this year appear to offer a Happy Ending to the Horrible Story of the COVID-19 Pandemic. But I am cautious. Not because I am ‘antivax’, but because lasting ‘ever afters’ are never written in the language of emotional manipulation and coercive control.
Herd immunity, when enough people have either recovered from COVID or been vaccinated, will end the pandemic. The pressure to get there has given us a vaccination drive with an unprecedentedly strong behavioral psychology and emergency response approach.
A panoply of persuasions has been deployed to encourage the hesitant, the slow and the complacent. From dating app bonuses to donuts, lotteries to laminated vaccination cards — when do incentives become coercive? Tempting little lagniappes to reward vaccination include free popsicles, milkshakes and hot dogs; free Budweiser if 70 percent of Americans are vaccinated by the Fourth of July; free Krispy Kreme donuts every day for a year. But daily donuts seem incongruous when obesity is a comorbidity for COVID. And was the person who came up with the idea of offering free ‘joints for jabs’ actually high?
Some of the rewards are substantial. United Airlines is running the ‘Your Shot to Fly’ sweepstakes, giving away 30 pairs of free flights to vaccinated customers. The state of California’s ‘Vax for the Win’ $116.5m lottery is the most generous of multiple cash giveaways in the US. There are even scholarships to public universities. And this is where we hit problems.