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Vaccinonomics: Should you get paid to take a shot?

By Mohammed Abrar Asif  –

A month ago, over dinner with a friend who has worked as an economist with a reputed Investment Bank for a very long time, he brought up the opinion of one British Economist who thinks people should get paid to take a jab of the vaccine.  

The economist’s entire idea was that mandatory vaccination, including for COVID-19, can be justified and justified ethically if the threat to public health is grave, the confidence in safety and effectiveness is high, the expected utility of mandatory vaccination is greater than the alternatives, and the penalties or costs for non-compliance are proportionate. He went on to describe an algorithm for justified mandatory vaccination. Penalties or costs could include withholding of benefits, imposition of fines, provision of community service or loss of freedoms.

He argues that a system of payment for risk in vaccination may be superior under conditions of risk or perceived risk of a novel vaccination. In defense of a payment model against various objections, including that it constitutes coercion and undermines solidarity. he argues that payment can be in cash or in kind, and opportunity for altruistic vaccinations can be preserved by offering people who have been vaccinated the opportunity to donate any cash payment back to the health service.

A few months ago, another economist from had written a similar article with the only difference of having put a number on it, and the number was a thousand Dollars.

Although it might seem that it’s a great idea (and who knows? Maybe it is), the costs associated with doing this maybe justified as part of the Government Spending in Developed Countries but what happens when it is tried and implemented in developing and under developed countries.

More than 600000 UK citizens have received the vaccine against the coronavirus developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and the conversation on the public being paid to take it has not come up yet.

A different concern is that paying people for vaccines is somehow unseemly or corrupting. A Harvard professor, in a lecture of philosophy in 2012 talked about whether we should bribe people to be healthy? There was a good number of people in the audience. The choice of the word “bribe” rather than something more neutral such as “incentivize” or “encourage” might have prejudiced the audience against the concept. This was before the pandemic, but audience members had strong opinions about the issue of the day, paying people to lose weight. One woman, a doctor for Britain’s National Health Service, said payments would insult patients’ dignity. She said it was “unimaginable” that she would offer money to an overweight patient who came to see her. Others said that since some people are desperately short of money, offering them cash to shed pounds could be seen as a form of coercion.

But Covid-19 again is such a serious health problem that it seems to override some of those concerns.

Some Economists deal with the objection of unduly influencing people with money by saying that since we cannot get into people’s minds, it is difficult in practice to unravel whether undue influence is occurring—how can we differentiate it from a rational decision? In practice, if it would be acceptable to be vaccinated for nothing, it is acceptable to do it for money. Concerns about undue influence are best met by implementing procedures to minimise bias and irrational decision making, such as cooling off periods, information reframing, and so on.”

Anyways as time passes, we will get a clear understanding of what Governments across the world decide but it surely is a very important time as distribution and control of the vaccine will shape Public Policy Economics for years to come and it still remains to see if we learn anything from it.

Welcome to our Newsletter on Economics, here we talk about ground breaking ideas and developments in the land of Adam Smith, Alfred Marshall, JM Keynes, George Soros, Robert Shiller and other Economists. We aim to please which is why our newsletters are written in the laymen’s language.

The author is a Partner at Asif Yahiya Sukri, an Investment Bank with offices in India, USA and UAE. Views expressed are personal. The article was first published on