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Sucker punch

1 June 2021 By Jeffrey Goldfarb

Averting a deadly virus should be incentive enough to get vaccinated against Covid-19, but there’s also a lot to be said for free beer. Companies and governments around the world are rolling out a growing list of creative perks to spur sluggish immunisation rates. Someday soon, however, rewards for the uninoculated will need to give way to harsher measures.

Qantas plans to provide fresh lollipops for laggard Australians in the form of travel vouchers and frequent flyer points. In Hong Kong, where vaccine uptake has been slow, property tycoons last week donated a $1.4 million apartment for a lottery designed to help overcome wariness of the city’s leadership and the Chinese doses on offer. Vaccinated financial bosses also now can seek permission from Hong Kong’s securities regulator to travel without quarantining.

Some American employers, such as supermarket chain Kroger, offer small bonuses or time off with proof of vaccination. A Washington, D.C., advocacy group dangled marijuana in a “Joints for Jabs” campaign while New Jersey brewers participated in a “shot and a beer” programme.

All these enticement efforts are welcome and should help elevate vaccination rates to levels that bring economies roaring back. Once supplies are plentiful and societies close in on the desired 70% to reach so-called herd immunity, the harder it might become to cajole the slowpokes and refuseniks. That’s when the sticks will come out.

Some are already being wielded. Basketball’s New York Knicks, for example, said if the team advances in the playoffs it will only sell tickets to fully vaccinated fans. Similar denial of access to airplanes, concerts and other services is likely. Recently updated technical guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission permits businesses to require inoculations to enter the workplace.

The uproar caused by mandatory protective-mask rules will be a tame prelude of what’s to come. More than 100 Texas hospital workers are suing their company for requiring immunisation, claiming it violates a medical ethics code. Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has banned vaccine passports, clashing with the cruise industry, which only can set sail under federal guidelines if nearly all crew and passengers are inoculated. It’s bound to get ugly between the jabbed and the jab-nots.


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