Ho Ching: Giving incentives to those getting Covid-19 vaccines is a ‘good idea’, should consider later

Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek Holdings, shared some thoughts on the possibility of incentivising Singaporeans to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Authorities elsewhere, like Hong Kong and the U.S., have found some success in getting more people to vaccinate with incentives.

Ho Ching said, “That is a good idea which we can consider later.” But Singapore’s circumstances are a little different.

Elsewhere

Hongkongers who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine stand to win cash prizes, a trip on a cruise, free health insurance, and even a S$1.9 million flat, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

In the U.S., some states have also offered prizes to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Residents in Ohio and California stand to become instant millionaires if they’re the lucky ones, like this 22-year-old lady, or win other prizes like a full college scholarship.

Results were mixed, with Ohio not hitting its target of 50 per cent vaccinated, although the governor said that it did tip the balance for some people who were on the fence about getting vaccinated.

With Singaporeans no stranger to queuing up for lotteries, the same scheme could work out well here.

High vaccination rate in Singapore

However, Ho Ching pointed out that the major difference is that Hong Kong and the U.S. had more vaccines in stock than people interested in taking them.

“In HK, they had lots of vaccines but poor demand. They were in danger of vaccines expiring within the next (two) months,” she said.

The lottery prizes therefore helped to raise demand. Similarly, the U.S. has about 60 million vaccines in stock, and the various incentives have resulted in a slight increase from 1 million shots a day to 1.3 million.

Meanwhile, Singapore currently has more registrations than it does vaccines, Ho Ching said.

According to an update from the Ministry of Health (MOH) on June 24, 5 million vaccine doses have been administered, and 2 million people have received two shots.

“The overall take-up rate has been encouraging. To date, about 75 per cent of eligible seniors aged 60 years and above, 77 per cent of eligible persons aged 45 to 59 years, and 70 per cent of eligible persons aged 40 to 44 years have received the Covid-19 vaccination or booked their vaccination appointments.

39 per cent of Singapore Citizens aged 12 to 39 years have also received vaccinations or booked their appointments.”

Singapore also aims to boost its daily vaccination rate to 80,000 doses administered per day.

More people need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity

While the take-up rate is good right now, Singapore could also see a slowdown in the future, as other countries have experienced.

This will be an obstacle in reaching herd immunity. To illustrate her point, Ho Ching used the metaphor of a herd of elephants, with the strong adults standing on the outside of a ring to protect the vulnerable elderly and children on the inside.

Unfortunately, due to the highly infectious nature of certain Covid-19 variants, a high percentage of the population will need to get vaccinated before we can achieve herd immunity. As Ho Ching explained, (with some math involved):

“However, with the more infectious variants, with R0 as high as about 6, we need to get to over 90% vaccinated population, to have good effective herd immunity.

HIT is Herd Immunity Threshold.

For 100% effective vaccines, the HIT for R0 of 6 is

= 1 – (1/R0)

= 83+%

Since no vaccine is 100% effective, and even if the best of vaccines is about 90% effective against the most infectious Delta variant, we need 90~95% of our total population to be vaccinated to hit HIT.”

Get vaccinated to protect the vulnerable in our population

In order to get us over the line, Ho Ching said that incentives should be considered later on, presumably if Singapore’s vaccination rate lags.

She also said that any such incentives should also be made available to all who got their shots, and not just the “stragglers”, along with a host of emojis.

Ho Ching also noted that vaccination should be combined with other measures such as safe distancing and contact tracing to deal with sporadic outbreaks, and encouraged the public to persuade people they know to get vaccinated:

“The only caveat is that we really truly want our most vulnerable to get the best protection.

So folks, please persuade your friends, neighbours and family, esp those who are elderly and who have chronic illnesses that make them more vulnerable – persuade them to vaccinate as early as possible, and to get vaccinate with the most effective vaccines.”

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