On Thursday, former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton announced they would take the COVID-19 vaccine publicly to help grow public trust. It’s a momentous step for public health, and the kind of bipartisan act of faith centrists dream about.
It’s also probably not going to mean a whole lot. Getting three former presidents to take vaccines is going to make some headway with public trust, but it’s still a steep mountain to climb. According to a Harris Poll from October, 58 percent of Americans are willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available—an 11 percent decrease from two months prior. Even as the government grants emergency approval to several companies for vaccines, most Americans are harboring a “wait and see” approach—they want the vaccine, but they also don’t want to be the first to get it in case there’s something wrong. Former presidents taking it and FDA approval don’t matter—skepticism is still going to be high.
There’s one very obvious way to get Americans to take the vaccine immediately—pay them to.
Former Rep. and 2020 candidate John Delaney says Americans should be paid $1,500 to take a coronavirus vaccine.
— CNN (@CNN) November 28, 2020
A government paying its people to take a vaccine sounds like the beginning of any juicy conspiracy theory. But here’s the thing—it’ll actually work. People are desperate for financial relief. Millions are broke and on the verge of losing (or have already lost) their homes and jobs. The federal government has offered no help since the $1,200 stimulus checks several months ago. Paying people to take the COVID-19 vaccine is the perfect opportunity to provide real time relief and make a dent in a public health crisis that’s still nowhere close to being solved.
Paying people isn’t a novel idea, either—health experts and others have been discussing it for months as a way to get around the public’s general skepticism toward vaccines. It’s the only realistic way to do so without forcing people to actually take it, which could be an even more dangerous and dystopian move. Still, if paying people to do this could work anywhere, it’d be in the United States, where people aren’t just driven by money, but the federal government is hellbent on not giving its people any.
Experts opposed to paying people to take the vaccine make the same argument in reverse—that offering people money could increase their skepticism of the new vaccine rather than ease it. It’s a good argument, and one that probably holds more merit coming from actual health experts than former Maryland congressman and failed presidential candidate John Delaney. But what Delaney realizes is that the United States has painted itself into a corner, offering zero financial relief to its most vulnerable citizens while destroying public trust with inept, corrupt leadership that spans back decades. The country wouldn’t be in this situation if its leaders didn’t have an inherent aversion to actually helping people.
As recently as 2019, the United States ranked first among countries best equipped to deal with a pandemic. Perhaps that analysis just didn’t take into account how willing its leaders were to let Americans die as the economy collapsed and the country rotted out from the inside. It’ll take years, perhaps generations, to fix the damage done by COVID-19. Paying people to reach herd immunity may not be ideal, but it’s a decent start.