Financial incentives for vaccination do not have unintended negative consequences

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Contrary to warnings in the academic literature and public debate, modest financial incentives for vaccination can be used without fear of serious unintended consequences. This is the result of a scientific study, published in "Nature", conducted by the University of Zurich, Lund University and Unisanté.

Financial incentives are used to encourage certain behaviors in many contexts, such as blood donation or participation in clinical trials. This practice can trigger initial behavior change, but some scientists and policymakers are wary of their use and fear undesirable consequences.

In particular, they fear that this practice may erode social motivations, diminish confidence in the safety of the behaviors sought, and that the effect fades immediately once the payment is stopped. However, these potential negative consequences are difficult to measure.

On this topic, researchers from the University of Zurich, Lund University and Unisanté studied data from a randomized control trial in Sweden on more than 5’000 people and a complementary study on more than 3’000 American residents. The results of their study have been published in the journal Nature.

The study suggests that offering modest payments for vaccination does not have significant unintended consequences. This includes: adoption of future vaccines, perceived effectiveness of vaccines, trust in vaccine providers, or other health behaviors related or unrelated to vaccination (such as blood donation and flu vaccination)

The study also shows no impact on: moral aspects, civic responsibility, trust in the health care system, or feelings of self-determination and coercion.

This study provides important evidence that will enable policy makers to make more informed choices when evaluating the costs and benefits of financial incentives for behavior change.