West Virginia gov: We'll give a $100 savings bond to anyone aged 16-35 -- if they get vaccinated

How are we feeling about the idea of bribing people to get vaccinated? Now that we’re through the part of the population that’s eager to get inoculated, we need a way to get to the holdouts. Shaming them ain’t gonna do it, as even Anthony Fauci’s boss acknowledges:

The U.S. political divide on whether to get the coronavirus vaccine suggests that “maybe there’s been too much finger wagging,” said the head of the National Institutes of Health.

“I’ve done some of that; I’m going to try to stop and listen, in fact, to what people’s specific questions are,” NIH Director Francis Collins said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Right, for some people it’s a simple matter of being misinformed. Have them talk to a doctor about the vaccine, particularly a doctor whom they trust like their GP, and maybe their mind will change.

But what about the harder cases? There’s no reaching committed anti-vaxxers, who firmly oppose being immunized due to whatever weird ideological beliefs they have, but many young adults may be against the idea simply because they don’t see the need. Why run the risk of being inoculated with an “experimental” mRNA vaccine when twentysomethings rarely suffer serious consequences from COVID infections? How do you get them off the fence and into the pro-vax camp in pursuit of herd immunity?

In a word: Cash. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is ready to dish it out.

The governor later in his news conference said he’s hopeful the state will be able to give all those 16-35 savings bonds, and added that he believes a savings bond would be something meaningful to look at it in the future, rather than “just … a dash in the pan and a couple of trips to Wendy’s with your friends.”…

He added, “maybe just a real dose of patriotism from the standpoint of a savings bond” would be meaningful to the young. “Our young people should be really, really proud if they help us step up,” Justice said.

He said without vaccine buy-in from many more people, he would be “reading names” of the pandemic dead every other day, “and also we’re going to be faced with wearing these masks that nobody likes for a long, long, long time.”

Last November former Dem presidential candidate John Delaney proposed his own version of a vaccine bribe, conditioning the next round of stimulus checks on each taxpayer’s willingness to get the jab. That would have been a serious bribe, in the ballpark of $1,500 to $2,000, but there were big problems with the idea. People needed that money urgently and vaccination appointments were scarce early on. In fact, people under 65 weren’t eligible at all for the first few months. Another problem: Anti-vaxxers would inevitably exploit the payments as “proof” that the vaccines were risky, such that the feds felt obliged to reward people for absorbing that risk by giving them cash.

Those concerns don’t apply here. Justice isn’t proposing to make some critical benefit contingent upon vaccination, just a small bit of extra cash for any younger adult who opts in. And since we’ve already dished out 200 million doses nationally, there’s less hay to be made by anti-vaxxers from introducing payments at this point. If the vaccines were risky or didn’t work, we’d know by now. As it is, between the decline in cases here and the fabulous results in Israel and the UK, a little extra sugar in the form of a $100 payment to make the medicine go down is hardly a major motivator.

My biggest objection to the plan is that they’d be better off offering cold hard cash instead of the bond. When will that bond mature, in five years? How much of an incentive is it, really, to a young adult to get vaccinated right now in return for the promise of a measly hundred bucks in 2026? Half of them will forget they have the bond in a drawer somewhere and will never collect. West Virginia would be better off offering everyone 21 and up a free case of beer or whatever; the promise of instant gratification, a “dash in the pan and a couple of trips to Wendy’s with your friends,” as Justice put it, would do more to entice people than the bond would, I think.

West Virginia needs to try something, though. They made a splash in the first weeks of the vaccination effort by getting their nursing-home residents immunized quicker than virtually any other state but it’s been slow going for them since then. They’re 40th out of 50 states now as measured by the percentage of the population that’s received a first dose. Poll after poll shows that rural Republicans are among the groups least likely to want to get vaccinated, and West Virginia has lots of those. Compare the partisan numbers in this NBC national poll yesterday:

Lotta work to be done.

Here’s Justice making his pitch. He made clear that those between 16 and 35 who’ve already gotten their shots can also claim their bonds after the fact, which his way of anticipating the inevitable cries of unfairness if the money was reserved for the unvaccinated. Whether older age groups will demand a cut too remains to be seen. Maybe not — the older you are, the more the benefit from the vaccine is simply, uh, not dying. It’s the adults who aren’t much at risk of dying in the first place who need a little extra motivation.