Calls for vaccine incentives as Scott Morrison unveils Doherty modelling

The government has been warned vaccines may plateau at 70 per cent, and is being urged to consider incentives. Picture: Keegan Carroll
The government has been warned vaccines may plateau at 70 per cent, and is being urged to consider incentives. Picture: Keegan Carroll

The government has been told cash or other incentives may be needed to overcome a predicted vaccination plateau, despite modelling showing most Australians could receive the jab by November.

The warning comes after revelations Scott Morrison ordered a review into vaccine incentives, including direct payments, like a $300 proposal touted by Labor and criticised by the government.

The targets were based on modelling from the Doherty Institute, released on Tuesday, which suggested Australia will have the capacity to reach 70 per cent by November 1, and 80 per cent by November 22.

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ANU business and economics lecturer Andrew Hughes warned the gap between 70 and 80 per cent had proved particularly difficult to bridge elsewhere. But with most Australians still unvaccinated, he said incentives were premature.

"I think that the demand at the moment is so big, we don't need to offer those things right now. The biggest issue is: can we get access to it when we want the vaccine?" he said.

"It's when you hit that 70 per cent figure where you'll see it slow down. [That] then leads into incentives."

The calls comes as the nation's major airline, Qantas, flagged domestic borders will likely be affected for at least the next two months.

Australia is on the cusp of a vaccination rate of 20 per cent of residents aged over 16, with 41 per cent of those aged over 16 having received at least one dose.

Labor on Monday called for $300 to be paid directly to any Australian over 18 fully-vaccinated by December 1.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison blasted the move as a "vote of no-confidence" in Australians.

"It says to them that their health concerns that they have about a vaccine can be paid off, and I do not think that is the view of Australians," he said.

And the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government advised cash incentives would only be effective if the value was "immediate and very high", floating a figure of around $4,800.

Dr Hughes said research showed a cash payments would increase uptake, but warned they would not be a silver bullet.

"You normally do it when you've got that last hesitant, reluctant 10 to 15 per cent of a target figure who don't want to get it," he said.

"Throwing cash at people isn't going to work with everyone, the same way as a fear campaign won't work with everyone."

BETA warned cash payments could even backfire, by creating exaggerated perception the risk posed by vaccines.

Dr Hughes said, "Some people will hold back, because they think: 'Why do you have to offer me money? There's something you're not telling me. Is there something I need to know?'"

He predicted businesses, particularly those which were customer-facing, would eventually mandate vaccines for their employees.

France has introduced stringent restrictions on non-vaccinated residents, barring them from a host of public spaces. BETA's modelling showed a sharp increase in vaccination in the immediate aftermath.

And after Mr Morrison floated the prospect of eased restrictions for vaccination Australians, Dr Hughes agreed a "stick" approach was also needed.

"We're going to have to think about other methods. It could be: no jab, no play. You'll have to invest time into what they could be," he said.

"If my kids to go to school, they need to be vaccinated and they have to have all their vaccinations up to date. We haven't seen that yet with COVID-19 vaccinations."

Scott Morrison has blasted Labor's proposal for a $300 cash payment to vaccinated Australians.

Scott Morrison has blasted Labor's proposal for a $300 cash payment to vaccinated Australians.

Medical clinician Helen Marshall said mandating vaccines for travel or to attend large events could boost uptake.

"Sometimes a nudge can assist people to get vaccinated who just haven't quite got there," she told The Canberra Times.

In 2015, Mr Morrison introduced a "No jab, no play" scheme for childcare as Social Services Minister, which he on Tuesday insisted had been effective.

"It wasn't done necessarily as an incentive, it was done as a protection for those children who entered those childcare facilities," he said.

"It wasn't about increasing the [vaccination] rate, it was about ensuring that others didn't put those children at risk."

The comments appeared to contradict his announcement in 2015, when he described the scheme as "an important initiative aimed at boosting childhood immunisation rates".

Cash draws for immunised residents have been introduced in a number of US states. But BETA's modelling found vaccine lotteries, touted by the Grattan Institute last week, had had "little to no impact" on long-term vaccination levels in the country.

Tabcorp has made positive noises over running an equivalent in Australia, and received Defence Minister Peter Dutton's backing in June.

And despite claiming Australians did not want to be "paid off" to receive the jab, Prime Minister Scott Morrison left the door open for a vaccine lottery.

"We still remain open. We've looked at all these ... The fiscal difference [between the two ideas] is pretty huge," he said.

"We have had lots of private offers of how things like that might work and General Frewen and his team have looked at that."

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This story Calls for incentives as vaccine plateau predicted first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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