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To reward or punish? General support in B.C. for vaccination uptake policies, study finds

Last Updated Apr 24, 2019 at 8:25 am PDT

(Source: iStock)

New study shows general support in B.C. for policies designed to increase vaccination uptake, including cash incentives

Many feel good about the idea of offering rewards to those who get their kids vaccinated, study finds

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If herd-immunity isn’t enough of an incentive to vaccinate your children, would cash make you more likely to?

A new study is looking closer at British Columbians’ attitudes toward vaccination policy.

It’s been a contentious debate fuelled by strong opinions and misinformation — fear on all sides.

However, this new study shows most people in B.C. are in favour of vaccines and support rewarding people who get vaccinated.

More than 1,300 participants offered their opinions on a number of hypothetical policy options.

For example, it asked whether parents who can’t prove they’ve vaccinated their kids should be denied child tax benefits or unemployment benefits.

Less than 40 per cent of people agree with such punitive approaches, which Australia has already adopted.

However, offering tax breaks or cash rewards for those who can prove they’ve been vaccinated is supported by nearly half of respondents.

Dr. Julie Bettinger, lead author of the research says she was relieved most people rejected the idea of punishing people into vaccinations.

“I think I was reassured to be honest. It sort of restored my faith in Canadians,” she says.

“Often times when a child is unimmunized it’s not always by choice. If you’re going to be implementing punitive policies you really need to make sure that you’ve got 100 per cent access for everybody in the population because you want to remove all those sorts of barriers before you start punishing people for not being vaccinated.”

She says the most important thing the government can do right now is ensure people feel safe about the vaccines that are available and honour people’s wishes to see more research done to prove the efficacy and safety of immunization.

Around 90 per cent of the respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed the government should continue to invest in vaccine research.

“Even if people believe vaccines are safe they want continued research in that area to keep proving that they’re safe and to keep monitoring that they’re safe,” says Bettinger.

“When you ask anybody about vaccines often times their number one concern about it is that they’re safe,” she says.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, says he finds the general public’s perception on the topic interesting.

“It’s kind of interesting that these are vaccines that are routinely administered,” he explains. “On the one hand, many people feel that this is just something that should be done, it’s a normal part of childhood … but on the other hand, in this day and age, where there are increasing barriers towards vaccines — mainly based on people’s perceptions, and unwarranted perceptions towards them, maybe it is okay to have some incentives to encourage vaccination.”

The survey and study were conducted in 2017, before the most recent measles outbreaks in B.C.

Bogoch — who did not take part in the study — doesn’t know if a simple cash incentive may be enough to convince everyone who is opposed to vaccinations to go through with getting them or having their children be vaccinated. He says there are a number of reasons — including different ideologies and opinions — behind why someone may be against the idea of getting and immunization.

“Cash incentives may help a small proportion of some people — and again, is this going to be a one-size-fits-all answer? No, absolutely not. But maybe it will encourage vaccination in a small subset of people who have chosen not to for whatever reason.”

When it comes to the hypothetical, more punitive-based policies presented to those who took part in the study, Bogoch admits these are challenging to implement.

“On the one hand, we’re balancing public health and public safety — but on the other hand, we have to recognize that people have to have a normal day-to-day life and day-to-day function, and I think many Canadians would feel it’s unreasonable to take away essential financial or social support from individuals because they’re choosing not to vaccinate themselves or their children.”

Meantime, he says there are some measures that may be considered punitive — like refusing a child who is not vaccinated to certain schools or daycares.

“This is really that balance between ensuring that other kids don’t get sick or other people in the community don’t get sick with vaccine-preventable illnesses, but of course, I think these punitive measures that really take away from people’s ability to maintain a normal lifestyle and feed or clothe themselves, or house themselves, I think that’s a little bit much.”