Australia’s chief medical officer is open to unlikely sweeteners such as lotteries and product discounts to boost the sluggish national virus vaccination program.
CMO Paul Kelly said as many incentives as possible should be considered to encourage eligible Australians to get vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus.
It came as Victorian health authorities confirmed four new community cases of the virus on Monday.
Professor Kelly said the infections, detected in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, should be a stark reminder to eligible Australians not to delay getting inoculated.
He warned the nation’s strong track record for containing coronavirus could come unstuck quickly, particularly with the onset of winter.
“Please don’t hesitate to get your vaccine,” Professor Kelly said.
He indicated that Australia could start offering incentives if it would help to encourage more people to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Professor Kelly said he was open to novelty measures such as cash lotteries and product discounts, as seen overseas.
“All of these things are potentially on the table,” he said.
But he reiterated that the main incentive to getting vaccinated is “protecting your own health”, instead of sitting in wait of an outbreak.
“At the moment, we know there is some hesitancy, particularly in the 50 to 69-year-old age group. We are rolling out extremely well in the over 70s. So there is something we need to consider there.”
Some incentives offered overseas include free marijuana, doughnuts, gym passes and cash lotteries.
In the US, cities and states have using anything from free beer to massive cash prizes to help get people to queue up for a COVID shot.
New Jersey is picking up the tab for one free beer, while the city of Lancaster in California is encouraging teenagers to get the jab with a college scholarship raffle worth up to $US10,000 ($A12,926).
In May, the state of Ohio announced it would create a lottery for the newly vaccinated.
Prizes offered by Ohio include a full four-year scholarship for teenagers and $1 million for adults. Elsewhere, Maryland is offering $2 million worth of prizes.
New York has announced a “vax and scratch” scheme. Anyone over 18 years old who gets vaccinated during the set time will have the chance to win a whopping $5 million.
Back in Australia, there are fears the rollout has been hampered by complacency and concerns among older residents about the AstraZeneca jab.
The drug has been linked to a handful of extremely rare blood clots.
Despite the remote risk, cabinet minister Simon Birmingham is urging people not to wait for alternative jabs to arrive.
“Australians aged over 50 who have concerns or hesitancy should sit down and talk to their GP,” Senator Birmingham said.
Professor Kelly has written to all Australian GPs with the latest advice on vaccine side-effects.
He has not joined Department of Health boss Brendan Murphy in blaming sensationalist media reports for the vaccine hesitancy.
But one potential vaccine incentive faces stiff opposition.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants vaccinated Australians to be able to travel across state borders irrespective of lockdowns.
He will pitch his internal passport idea at the next national cabinet meeting on June 4.
But his proposal would also deny freedom of movement to Australians who refuse to be immunised.
Premiers and chief ministers are not sold on the interstate passports and neither is federal backbencher Matt Canavan, who said freedom of movement was an Australian birthright.
Labor has dismissed the passport idea as a “thought bubble”.
Senator Birmingham said he was focused on keeping domestic borders open rather than responding to closures.
“First and foremost, I want to make sure we keep the borders open by keeping COVID-19 suppressed,” he said.
“That is the priority, to make sure the states and territories have no excuse or reason to close those borders.
“It’s not unreasonable though to be talking through with the states and territories whether or not those vaccinated Australians are able to move more freely or not.”
About 3.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered across the country, through a mix of AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs.
The number of vaccinated disability care residents has been revised up to 5888 doses from fewer than 1000 a week ago.
The overall national number is still well short of what the government was hoping for, but the rollout could soon receive a shot in the arm.
The government is promising two million doses of Pfizer will arrive in Australia each week from the start of October.
This could see every Australian who wants protection from COVID-19 fully immunised by the end of 2021.