When I was a child, doctors giving vaccine shots used to hand out candy or a little toy to take the sting and fear out of the shot. A similar idea could rescue the U.S. economy when one or more COVID vaccines are approved by the FDA and widely available for mass uptake.
The adult version of the doctor handing out candy to children, fortunately, points toward a solution: pay people who get the shot (or shots, since more than one may be required).
How much? I know of no hard science that can answer that question, but my strong hunch is that anything less than $1,000 per person wont do the trick. At that level, a family of four would get $4,000 (ideally not subject to income tax) a lot of money to a lot of families in these difficult times, and thus enough to assure that the country crosses the 80 percent vaccination threshold.
Economists will point out that any vaccine payment scheme will overcompensate, since most of those getting the shots and thus the money will take the vaccine in any event. Others will object that a vaccine payment scheme rewards people for being intransigent, for any number of reasons. Both those objections are valid, but also beside the point.
If the nation doesnt get to herd immunity once the vaccine becomes widely available and has been independently validated, were all out of luck: the economy will continue to struggle with a weight on its chest, and American society wont get back to normal. Any overpayment is simply part of the price Americans would have to pay, given our deep political divisions, in order get all of our lives back. The alternative living with the fear of a virus that has not been sufficiently tamped down is much worse.
Admittedly, the price tag of about $275 billion $1,000 times 275 million, or about 80 percent of population at first blush looks high. But the vaccine reward would be a one-time payment. Compare it to the trillions of dollars in financial rescue packages that already have or will be legislated until the virus is brought under the control, as well as the ongoing trillions of dollars in cumulative lost output and incomes the economy will suffer if herd immunity is not reached. By these yardsticks, the $275 billion price tag, even if it is deficit-financed, is a bargain.
What if the $1,000 is not enough, getting us to, say, a take-up rate of 75 percent, but not 80 percent? We could live with that result and hope that enough other people wear masks and social distance in areas where the 80 percent threshold hasnt been crossed, or ultimately that advances in therapeutics will be sufficient to reduce the mortality rate to or below the level of the seasonal flu, thus removing the fear of catching the virus by venturing outside.
A potentially better idea is to hold back a substantial portion of the $1,000 say $800 of it until the 80 percent threshold is reached, ideally on a national basis, since people move around and can thus still spread the infection from the remaining hot spots. Because people who have taken the shot will get the balance, by check or wire, once the national vaccination threshold is crossed, they will have strong incentives to persuade their family members, neighbors, work colleagues, church members, and so on to get the shot so that everyone who does can collect the full $1,000 per person payment.
One thing should be clear the outset: Congress should make clear that the payment will not be increased to get the nation across the finish line which means it is better to start out high, rather than offering a lower payment and only later increasing it if needed. If the incremental strategy is followed, too many people could hold back, hoping to cash in and get even more if the payment in fact later is increased.
Earn money becoming a vaccine zombie.