Kebabs For Jabs, Really? The Problem With Vaccine Incentives

Some young people are grabbing the free pizza, others call government tactics "childish" and "tone-deaf".

As the vaccine rollout continues, the government is doing everything it can to coax young people into getting the Covid-19 jab – and if that means offering discounted taxi rides and takeaways, Westminster says: whatever it takes.

Car services such as Uber and Bolt and food delivery apps UberEats and Deliveroo are among those offering incentives for young people to get vaccinated in what has been dubbed “kebabs for jabs”.

Uber will be reminding all users in August to get vaccinated, offering discounts on rides and meal delivery for doing so. Deliveroo will also offer vouchers, while Bolt is offering “free ride credit” to vaccination centres.

The Department of Health said more partnerships would be released “in due course”, while some local charities and councils have also started offering free taxis to help people get to vaccination centres.

Even cash incentives are now being considered, with universities minister Michelle Donelan telling Times Radio that “everything is on the table”.

This comes amid government concerns about the current Covid vaccine uptake among young people. The latest figures suggest 68% of 18 to 29-year-olds in England have had the first jab, compared to 88.6% of all UK adults.

Thanking the businesses supporting this vaccine drive, health secretary Sajid Javid then addressed young people directly, saying on Sunday: “Please go out and take advantage of the discounts.

“The lifesaving vaccines not only protect you, your loved ones and your community, but they are helping to bring us back together by allowing you to get back to doing the things you’ve missed.”

What do young people make of the scheme? We spoke to them to find out.

Are free takeaways and taxis incentive enough to persuade the vaccine hesitant?
filadendron via Getty Images
Are free takeaways and taxis incentive enough to persuade the vaccine hesitant?

Abi Howe, 20, a student from Kent doesn’t think free pizza is enough to entice young people to get the vaccine. “It’s a childish and immature approach,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Hesitancy from young people is higher than the general population and that isn’t going to be eased by bribery, which suggests [the reason is] young people just aren’t bothered.”

Howe has already received her vaccination, but said that if she weren’t already vaccinated ,the discounts wouldn’t encourage her to get jabbed, nor has she seen any information as to whether incentives will be applied retroactively.

“I think young people have sacrificed a lot and this hasn’t been recognised,” she says. “Instead, they’ve been blamed for a rise in cases and now criticised for vaccine caution without proper information which might ease their worries.”

“It’s awful, tone-deaf and reeks of people putting graffiti on a leaflet, thinking, 'yes, that will attract the kids'.”

- Chadwick, 29

Ada Enechi, a 27-year-old producer from east London was happy to bag her free meal after a first dose of the vaccine, which up until now she’d not got round to booking. In fact, she got jabbed and fed in the same place: a festival-like tent that has been set up near her house. Once vaccinated, she says, you get your free food and a drink, and it’s all accompanied by live music.

It sounds like a party, but freelancer and fellow Londoner Chadwick, 29, who preferred not to give his surname, thinks these incentives are a terrible idea.

“It’s awful, tone-deaf and reeks of people putting graffiti on a leaflet thinking, ‘yes, that will attract the kids.’ If you have any respect for young people you would acknowledge the complexity of our existence,” he tells HuffPost UK.

Chadwick believes the vaccine is too important for such tactics, advising people seek out information about its proven safety – and avoid scaremongering.

That message might resonate with Deborah Ajulo, 24, a sustainability coordinator from London, who has worries about the vaccine, as she believes scientists need several years to really understand it.

“Deals like this make me even more sceptical and push me further away from wanting to get the vaccine,” she tells HuffPost UK. “It feels like there is another agenda. This to me is not desperation, but it feels like they are trying to exclude people to peer-pressure them into getting the vaccine.”

She adds: “The government has treated young people like we’re ignorant and don’t understand what is going on. They’ve blamed young people for lockdowns and Covid spreading. I think they’ve just found it easier to blame us, rather than themselves for their lack of competency.”