Research Finds Payments Could Increase COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

Vaccine stock photo
Matthew Rousu and Nick Clark

January 26, 2021

Two Susquehanna University professors have a simple way to convince Americans to become vaccinated against COVID-19 – pay them.

Matthew Rousu, dean of Susquehanna’s Sigmund Weis School of Business, and Nick Clark, associate professor and chair of political science, in a just-published editorial in Barron’s, suggest paying people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may be the easiest and fastest way for the United States to achieve herd immunity.

Rousu and Clark base their position on the findings of their recent study conducted with Jay Corrigan, professor of economics at Kenyon College, that used carefully controlled auctions to estimate how much Pennsylvania college students would have to be paid to get the seasonal flu shot.

As with their earlier work estimating how much Facebook users would have be paid to go without the service, these were real auctions with real money at stake. Students knew the winner would get paid in exchange for getting vaccinated.

They found that half of the students in their sample said they needed no compensation to get vaccinated, meaning they’d be willing to get a flu shot if it was free and relatively convenient. Of those who turned down the free shot, 60% said they’d get vaccinated for $20 or less. And more than 90% would agree to get the shot in exchange for $100 or less.

The new Biden administration is proposing another round of stimulus checks, this time in the amount of $1,400. Rousu and Clark suggest a portion of those checks—perhaps $400—be tied to getting vaccinated.

“This incentive would not be enough to sway the hardcore skeptics, but our results suggest that modest payments can lead to a large increase in vaccination rates,” Clark said. “This would help the country reach the herd immunity threshold as fast as possible, at which point cases will start to decline, and life will begin to feel normal again.”

With COVID-19 currently the leading cause of death in the United States, Rousu said that “we need to use every tool we have in this last push to crush it.” He continued by adding that “economics’ most fundamental lesson is that incentives matter. If modest payments help us beat this pandemic just one week sooner, they will have saved tens of thousands of lives.”

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