May 2021, a man enters a Covid-19 vaccination center in Stockholm, Sweden.

Wei Xuechao | Xinhua | Getty Images

LONDON – Swedish scientists are trying to find out if monetary incentives could motivate people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have started a study to test different ways to encourage vaccine uptake, involving 8,200 unvaccinated people under the age of 60.

The introduction of Covid-19 vaccines is at different stages in different regions of Sweden, but many are now offering the vaccine to all adults over the age of 18. According to the Swedish Health Authority, vaccinations for 16- and 17-year-olds will likely be carried out from August onwards.

The country controversially waived lockdown measures at the start of the pandemic, but later imposed some rules such as wearing masks as its population experienced a winter surge in coronavirus cases.

In the Lund University study, participants were randomly assigned one of four motivational techniques. The first group received information about the vaccines available to them – in Sweden these are Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen and Moderna vaccines for under-60s. The second cohort was asked to make an argument that they believed would convince someone else to take the vaccine, while the third was asked to make a list of loved ones they would like to protect with the vaccine. Finally, some study participants used a fourth method of paying people to be vaccinated.

A number of participants also served as a control group and were not subjected to any specific motivational method – however, they were “encouraged” to be vaccinated.

Research began earlier this year, with scientists expecting preliminary results in September. Participants’ “intent to vaccinate” – whether they want to be vaccinated within the first month of vaccine availability – and official data showing whether they were actually vaccinated are used to measure the success of the study’s four motivational techniques.

Armando Meier, an economist and co-author of the study, told CNBC on Monday by phone that people’s stated intentions do not necessarily coincide with their actions. In a survey of participants at the start of the study, 80% said they would receive the vaccine within a month of the offer. However, Meier said the actual intake rate showed that the number of people who actually accepted the intake was much lower.

According to Our World in Data, 39% of the Swedish population is currently fully vaccinated while 22% of the population has received a dose of a vaccine.

“We do not see a particularly high vaccination delay in Sweden compared to others” [countries], but we know that vaccination rates are stable, especially among younger people, “said Meier.” I wouldn’t say that Swedes are particularly vaccinatory or particularly in favor of vaccination, but we are definitely very willing to be vaccinated. “

Meier added that it was difficult to predict which of the study’s methods would be most effective at increasing vaccination rates.

“Many governments clearly believe that fighting people’s prosociality by telling them, ‘The vaccine not only protects you, it protects others too’ is an effective strategy, because that is what many are at Messages, ”he told CNBC. “At the same time, we are also seeing that many countries value information, so they think as long as you let people know that vaccines are safe and effective it will do the job – based on previous social science research, it is not clear, whether that’s really that convincing. “

In terms of the financial reward, Meier admitted that the study provided a “rather small incentive”. Participants in the study who received a cash reward for vaccination received 200 Swedish kronor (US $ 23) to receive their vaccine, paid for in the form of a gift card that could be used in most online stores.

“I really should [motivate] People who basically want to be vaccinated, but somehow can’t find the time or just think it’s too cumbersome, ”says Meier. “That motivates them a bit to actually get vaccinated. And I think a lot of economists would think these incentives work best. “

Strategies across Europe

Elsewhere in Europe, governments are using alternative methods to increase vaccine intake.

French lawmakers have passed rules requiring people to show proof of vaccination or a recently negative Covid-19 test from August to enter facilities such as museums and cinemas. Meanwhile, French health workers will have to get vaccinated or be banned by September 15.

The day after President Emmanuel Macron announced the entry into force of these measures, 1.3 million people in France made vaccination appointments.

The chief advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Helge Braun, told the German media on Sunday that unvaccinated people could not expect the same freedoms as those who were fully vaccinated. However, the issue has reportedly split German lawmakers.

According to Our World in Data, only 49% of the German population are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In France, the figure drops to 44%, the data show.

In England, nursing home workers are required to be vaccinated from October.