FILE PHOTO: The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for a high-risk worker in Melbourne
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for a high-risk worker in Melbourne, May 12, 2021.

SYDNEY - The Australian government is being urged to offer citizens cash and lottery tickets as incentives to boost slow rates of COVID-19 vaccinations. Public health and advertising experts say more needs to be done to counter mounting hesitancy and confusion about a mass inoculation program. 

Research commissioned by two Australian newspapers found a third of respondents don’t intend to get vaccinated soon. There are community-wide doubts about potential side effects of vaccines. The survey has also shown that many Australians believe there is no rush to receive a dose while the country’s international borders remain closed. 

Demand for injections has been far lower than expected. At the current pace of about 500,000 doses a week, Australia’s adult population would not be fully vaccinated until October 2022. 

But the authorities are warning that “complacency can kill,” pointing to the “resurgence of this deadly virus in countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea” which, like Australia, had appeared to have suppressed community spread of COVID-19.

A new mass COVID-19 vaccination hub opens in Sydney, May 10, 2021.

Australia’s federal government recently responded to hesitancy about the vaccines with a new public health campaign. 

Experts believe that offering Australians lottery tickets or cash after being vaccinated could boost injection rates. Similar measures, along with free beer and donuts, have been used in other countries, including the United States, where critics said vaccine payments might “unfairly exploit” people who have lost jobs during the pandemic. 

A major incentive for Australians could be linked to overseas travel. Officials have said the reopening of international borders, which have been closed for more than a year, could be dependent on high rates of coronavirus vaccinations. 

Julian Savulescu is a bioethicist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne. He says Australians need to be actively encouraged to get the jab. 

“You can provide them with things that clearly are benefits to them such as cash or kind. So, kind being, you know, greater ability to travel, not having to wear masks in certain situations. So, the U.S. has dropped mask requirements for people who have been vaccinated or provide them with cash, you know, and money does talk and it may well influence significant numbers of people,” Savulescu said.

Tough border control measures, strict lockdowns and mass testing have helped Australia to contain COVID-19. Cases of community transmission are now rare, but on Monday, state health authorities in Victoria reported two “likely positive cases” in the city of Melbourne. 

Australia has diagnosed over 30,000 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, and 910 have died, according to the latest government statistics. 

Regulators have so far approved two vaccines for use in Australia; the Pfizer/BioNTech treatment and the Oxford/AstraZeneca drug. 

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