We are greatly relieved that the number of active Covid-19 cases has fallen rapidly in recent weeks.
But this good news has also brought a shadow of concern: Following a boom during the recent outbreak, new vaccination rates are slowing again even as health officials confirmed the first instance of the highly contagious delta variant in the territory this week.
To help maintain the vaccine momentum, we suggest that the government consider working with businesses and other stakeholders to launch an incentive programme.
This approach may seem over the top, but it appears to have worked surprisingly well elsewhere. In the United States, lottery prizes up to $1 million have been offered to motivate people to get the jab in some states. Meanwhile, several universities, businesses and other entities abroad have launched similar initiatives on a smaller scale. At the University of South Carolina, for instance, vaccinated students are entered into a drawing to win free tuition, sports tickets and other awards.
We see no reason why the VI shouldn’t augment its existing vaccination programmes and education campaigns with a similar approach. A chance to win cash or a new car might well serve as a powerful motivator, and we believe that any tactic that gets jabs into more arms is worth trying.
Here, the deadly surge in cases since late June inspired many unvaccinated residents to finally get the jab in recent weeks. This push was real progress, but it wasn’t enough.
As of government’s latest update, only about 55 percent of the population had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and less than half had been fully vaccinated.
These rates are still a far cry from health officials’ ideal target of 80 percent. Moreover, longstanding uncertainty about the VI’s population size means that the territory must err on the side of caution, continuing to push even after the 80 percent threshold appears to have been achieved.
To that end, an ongoing incentive programme could be a good addition to existing programmes, which should also continue at full force. At the same time, government should continue to create other incentives as well, in part by further relaxing restrictions for vaccinated people when it is safe to do so.
The discovery of multiple Covid variants in recent months highlights the very real threat of another deadly surge here at any time. Across much of the globe, such outbreaks are already happening — especially in communities with relatively low vaccination rates similar to the VI’s.
In fact, US health officials are now recommending that vaccinated people get a booster shot. VI officials may do the same very soon if the AstraZeneca shot offered here proves to need a booster.
Unfortunately, the recent drop in cases here probably does not herald the end of the territory’s struggle with Covid-19. Mass vaccinations remain the only way out.