It’ll take more than free doughnuts to get Americans vaccinated | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

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A free doughnut? $5 off your purchase? Two hours of pay. What will they offer for the next pandemic?  A dozen doughnuts?

Lloyd E. Sheaffer (Capital-Star file)

The White House is encouraging businesses to offer incentives to citizens to be inoculated against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer quite a range of lures to reel in those who are not yet vaccinated.

In my view such an approach is both a strategic and a tactical misstep.

I’ll be clear: I think everyone, save those with legitimate health concerns, should be vaccinated against COVID-19.

In fact, I feel being immunized against the disease should be required for participation in public schools, in colleges and universities, in sports, and so on. However, having to resort to stunts such as being entered into a sweepstakes to win Super Bowl tickets debases the entire process to return our nation to a healthy condition.

I am not surprised, though. We have moved well beyond the days of the citizenry acting and sacrificing for the commonweal of society.

As divisions continue to multiply among our US population, the matter of being vaccinated predictably led to further inimical arguments and deleterious actions—or inactions—among our people and governmental representatives.

Given the obdurate positions so many folks cling to about the vaccine situation, an hour’s free babysitting at the YWCA while parents are inoculated will not change an intractable mind.

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From a different perspective, a strategy of offering incentives — bribery? — not only is not a winning strategy but also can lead to further and future undesirable consequences.

Although she is writing to a business audience, leadership consultant Kristen Harcourt in the article “7 Problems With Employee Incentives” explains why using incentives to motivate workers often has undesirable outcomes rather than positive results.  She writes, “The problem is that [incentive plans don’t] work. In fact, following the practice of offering carrots and sticks can actually have the opposite effect, and decrease performance.”

Harcourt, citing behaviorist Daniel Pink, summarizes the frequent unintended outcomes of incentive programs:

  • They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
  • They can diminish performance.
  • They can crush creativity.
  • They can crowd out good behavior.
  • They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.
  • They can become addictive.
  • They can foster short-term thinking.

Some of these unintentional ramifications ought to have been considered before pouring out inducements to the unvaccinated.

“They can extinguish intrinsic motivation” applies to the loss of civic and social responsibility citizens should uphold for the good of the whole nation; the body politic is not a “me” community but a “we” community. Upright citizens should proudly sacrifice the “me” for the “we” in times of attacks on our country’s safety and well being.

“They can become addictive” is a menacing result of misguided incentives.  When we suffer a future pandemic, and experts claim there will be more, too many people might very well sit back and wait to see what is in it for them — beyond keeping you and your family alive, maybe? — to receive a life-sustaining vaccine or a medicine.

Perhaps some hapless individuals will demand free Major League Baseball season tickets rather than the ones for just June as is now being offered.

“They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior” can already be seen in the current situation with hordes of irresponsible characters buying faux CDC vaccination cards online. “The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and the FBI have noticed that such cards have been ‘advertised on social media websites, as well as e-commerce platforms and blogs,’” writes health reporter Bruce Y. Lee on Forbes.com.

The Washington Post reports that such fake cards can be purchased on eBay for as little as $9.49. Some will view that as a cheap outlay for the opportunity to be rewarded with tickets to the 2022 Daytona 500 NASCAR race.

President Joe Biden’s aims are commendable: He wants the nation (1) to become immune to the scourge of COVID-19, (2) to enable the nation to resume productive, profitable lives, and (3) to repair the divisions in the nation engendered by the pandemic.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” opined both Jesus (in Mark 3:25) and President Abraham Lincoln (in a campaign speech he delivered at the 1858 Illinois Republican State Convention).

The current coronavirus vaccination struggles have once again divided our nation’s house.  It will take much more than Krispy Kreme icing or any other incentives to repair the country’s breaches.

We must set aside cynical, selfish, partisan thinking and act—perhaps even sacrifice—for the good of the entire citizenry. Only then will we live out the dream of our founders: ” …to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

What other incentive should you need?  Please . . . get vaccinated.

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].