Let the bribes begin: NYC to pay people $100 when they get their first vaccine dose

A few days ago the city brought out the stick, warning municipal workers that they could either get vaccinated or be tested weekly indefinitely.

Today they’re offering carrots: A Benjamin to any New Yorker who’s been holding out on getting their shots and now opts to do so (at a city-run clinic).

Having to bribe people to take free medicine that saves lives seems like a positive cultural development to me.

De Blasio said the $100 will make a “big impact, particularly in a world in which more and more things are going to be determined by whether you’re vaccinated or not.”

“We wanted to supercharge it by saying we’ll give you extra, direct personal incentive to get this done now,” he continued.

Residents and city employees will receive a $100 pre-paid debit card, said Rachel Loeb, president of the New York City Economic Council.

Residents can immediately redeem the card digitally, or receive a physical debit card.

This isn’t New York City’s first experiment with vaccination bribes. Last month they offered $100 per head to community groups who brought people in to get vaccinated, with a cap of $20,000 per group. Why they didn’t just offer the hundred bucks to those being vaccinated isn’t clear to me, and I guess isn’t clear to the city either in hindsight given the new policy announced today.

It’s not America’s first experiment with vaccination bribes either. The state lotteries held last month are the most prominent example but don’t forget that West Virginia began offering $100 savings bonds to people aged 16-35 all the way back in April. I feel about NYC’s bribe the same way I felt about West Virginia’s: Depressed that it’s necessary, resentful that people who did the right thing for the right reasons get nothing while the laggards are rewarded, and willing to swallow my bile and tolerate it if it ends up meaningfully moving the population further towards herd immunity.

And it might:

There aren’t a ton of Republican evangelicals in NYC but there are plenty of nonwhite twentysomethings. An incentive might shift them out of the “wait and see” column. A separate poll from Axios confirms the dynamic: “Roughly half of the people in the most persuadable group are Black or Hispanic, whereas the most resistant group is overwhelmingly white. The dug-in opponents also identify more solidly as Republican, and are disproportionately concentrated in the South.” Not surprisingly, despite the money on the table since April, West Virginia hasn’t done well with vaccinations, ranking in the bottom 10 states as measured by the share of the population that’s fully vaccinated. New York City may fare better with its bribery program due to demographic differences.

Two questions, though. First, why are they doling out the hundred bucks after the first shot instead of the second? One of the most highly publicized facts about the vaccines over the past month is that a single dose is much less effective against Delta than it was against previous strains. The UK scrambled to accelerate its “first doses first” strategy in order to hurriedly get second doses into the population because they realized that partial immunity was going to leave people at risk. You’re not reliably protected against the new variant until you’ve had two shots. Yet here’s NYC baiting holdouts to come in, get dosed once, then walk away once they have their debit card. That’s silly. It may even be risky, as people with partial immunity might be more apt to produce vaccine-resistant mutations once they’re infected.

Make ’em come back for the second shot before they get their money.

Second, how many New Yorkers who’ve already been vaccinated are going to try to collect on the hundred bucks by walking into a clinic and telling the vaccine technicians there that they’re unvaccinated? Sixty-two percent of the vaccinated population is willing to get a booster shot; feigning unvaxxed status to get a third dose for extra protection against Delta was already tempting but $100 only sweetens the pot. So does the data from Pfizer, which keeps dribbling out information about how effective a third shot would be against the new variant:

The data posted online, which are expected to be discussed in a company earnings call on Wednesday morning, suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant in people ages 18 to 55 who receive a third dose of vaccine are greater than five-fold than following a second dose.

Among people ages 65 to 85, the Pfizer data suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant after receiving a third dose of vaccine are greater than 11-fold than following a second dose.

There’s “estimated potential for up to 100-fold increase in Delta neutralization post-dose three compared to pre-dose three,” researchers wrote in the Pfizer data slides.

Lotta unused doses are sitting on the shelves right now. Lotta vaccinated people want them and evidently would benefit from them. Let supply meet demand. I bet vaccinated New Yorkers don’t even want the hundred bucks.

Here’s de Blasio announcing the new policy. Not only do the unvaccinated not have to pay higher insurance premiums for refusing to hedge against foreseeable health risk, now the public has to pay them. That’s grotesque, but oh well.