30 Sep 2021

Covid-19 vaccination incentives tried as numbers for first dose drop

9:02 am on 30 September 2021

The daily number of people getting their first Covid vaccine dose has tumbled.

MIQ and border workers getting Covid-19 Pfizer vaccine.

Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Four weeks ago an average of 55,000 New Zealanders were getting their first shot each day.

Since then numbers have fallen off sharply; so far this week, just 13,000 first doses were given each day, just a quarter of the peak demand.

Nearly one million eligible people still have not had a dose.

University of Auckland senior marketing lecturer Bodo Lang said we're reaching the limits of the education phase, and it's now time for a new part of the rollout.

"I think we've reached a point where we're starting to run out of what mass persuasion and advertising can achieve. To get the last people across the line, you just need to use a different strategy, and that just needs to personalise the benefits of being vaccinated," Dr Lang said.

Dr Lang said for people who've not been personally affected by the disease, the threat of Covid can seem abstract. Making things personal, he said, would drive people's behaviour.

"The incentive says: 'You can't take part in public life - restaurants, bars and all these sorts of things'. If you can't take part in those because you're not double-vaccinated, I think that's a strong incentive."

A different approach is being tried in South Auckland from today.

Groceries, food parcels and pies will be given out at Papakura High School's vaccination centre, and next week at James Cook High School.

Local councillor Daniel Newman said over $50,000 worth of goods have been donated by local businesses and organisations.

"Whatever it takes to get people over the line. And if it means incentives, so be it," Newman said.

Four out five people 12 and over have had at least one dose or are booked for one.

Dr Michael Plank, a mathematician and Covid modeller, said the rates we're at now - even if all those with first doses completed their course of two shots - would not allow a normal life if we opened up.

"Whether it would be gathering size limits - those sort of level 2 settings - or whether we would need something stricter than that, we would need something that's going to have an impact on our daily lives in order to contain the spread of the virus at that sort of vaccine coverage."

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said childhood vaccination coverage to prevent other illnesses can get as high as 95 percent.

She said hardline anti-vaxxers are maybe only 5 percent of the population. The remainder are up for grabs, if you reach and persuade them.

"You've got to get a bit more innovative. The people forming that group that haven't yet accessed the vaccine are truly diverse."

Petousis-Harris said some creativity is needed with both the messaging - going through social video app TikTok - and removing barriers by offering, for example, petrol vouchers to people who need them.

Others feel as though they haven't had all their questions or concerns answered and may need to talk with a health professional.

But she said showing how a vaccine would be necessary to fully participate in public life would influence people.

"What does change people's behaviour is when you say 'if you want to participate in something, you're going to have to be vaccinated' and I don't think we can escape having those conversations."

In July, France announced a proof of vaccination or a negative test would be needed for entry into restaurants, bars, clubs and sports matches.

In the hours after that more than a million people booked a vaccine, and now 88 percent of over 12s have had at least one shot.

The New Zealand government said a vaccine passport would be made available this year for overseas travel, but how it may be used or required domestically is not clear.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs