Dr Katie Attwell is a senior lecturer and academic researcher at The University of Western Australia’s School of Social Sciences. Her research has focused on how governments motivate people to vaccinate, how vaccination policies make it to the agenda, how they are designed, how they differ and how they work.
Is requiring a vaccination passport to travel between states likely to be a viable and effective incentive for COVID-19 vaccination in Australia?
“I think it will more be a matter of whether the population sees this as an effective way to manage the spread of disease and to limit the impact of sudden changes. The frequency of snap lockdowns in different states throws travel plans into disarray. If people can be reassured that their travel plans – and their return home – will run more smoothly if they have been vaccinated, then this may be part of a strategy of encouraging uptake. Remembering, of course, that we don’t all have vaccine access yet. Also, any hard mandates limiting travel altogether for the unvaccinated could be very problematic, especially given the need to have a robust exemption process.”
"If people can be reassured that their travel plans – and their return home – will run more smoothly if they have been vaccinated, then this may be part of a strategy of encouraging uptake."Dr Katie Attwell
How about granting those with a vaccination passport the right to avoid lockdown restrictions, or allow them to continue to use gyms and public transport or go mask-free during COVID restriction periods?
“These strategies all have appeal as incentives, but again they are problematic in a context where we don’t have full supply for the population, so they have to remain thought bubbles for now. There is also the challenge of implementation. Does my bus driver now have to become an expert in ascertaining whether I have been vaccinated or not, as well as working out if I’m on a concession fare and handling money? Who is going to monitor whether that sweaty guy doing stretches at the park without a mask has been vaccinated or not? Execution is extremely important when it comes to vaccine requirements, even though there is also the broad benefit of instilling a social norm.”
What are other COVID-19 vaccination incentives that have proven successful in other countries and could be considered by Australia? Is food, entry into a prize-winning competition and ability to attend big cultural and music festivals effective incentives?
“Incentives would need to be minimal enough that people did not feel that they were being coerced into accepting the vaccine to receive them. They would need to feel more like a bonus. There can also be issues if incentives are later removed. That said, incentives can form part of a strategy of activating and motivating people who are willing to vaccinate but haven’t quite got around to it yet.”
Once Australia’s borders have been reopened, is allowing vaccinated Australians to travel overseas and quarantine at home a viable and effective incentive for COVID-19 vaccination in Australia?
“I think it will assist in making vaccination a more attractive option than the alternative. Again, the challenge will come if people feel coerced into being vaccinated because the alternative is considerably more expensive, or means that you can’t visit friends and family overseas. That’s why it will be important to anchor it to the population’s needs. Right now, we all have to go into lockdown whenever we have community transmission, so the idea that we’d have unvaccinated people moving about and generating further risk would not be defensible.”
Do you think more workplaces will make COVID-19 vaccination a requirement of employment?
“I think it is always preferable if governments make these decisions for industries rather than industries going it alone. Governments have the skills and resources to design and manage exemption criteria and processes. They can also recognise and assign risk to particular industries and consider whether COVID-19 vaccination is justifiable from a preventative perspective for protecting vulnerable people or for preventing the spread of disease.At this point I’m not sure what businesses will do, but it will be important for governments to set cues and expectations around this.”
Has there been a recent change in vaccine hesitancy in Australia and what is needed to address this?
“Australians are not more vaccine hesitant in general than they used to be, but some Australians remain worried about COVID-19 vaccines. Hesitancy is challenging and needs to be addressed by a multi-pronged approach. Even improving our supply problems can help, because the more people who are vaccinated, the more it becomes the social norm and those who are wavering may feel safety in numbers. Different social groups also need tailored messaging and interventions, and right now it seems like we also need something to work towards, in terms of what freedoms and opportunities lie ahead for our nation when we are all vaccinated.”