An incentive program to drive up COVID-19 immunization rates in Manitoba remains a work in progress after being announced by Premier Brian Pallister two weeks ago.
Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the COVID-19 vaccine task force, said Wednesday provincial public health officials are still in the process of developing a program.
"We need to be really cautious about incentives. It’s very easy for people who are already struggling with trust with the government to see incentives as something that the government is using to push people to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise want to do," Reimer told a news conference.
"And it can actually promote mistrust if we do it without being really cautious," she added.
Two weeks ago, Pallister said the government was preparing an incentive program to increase immunization rates in the province. At the time, Pallister said achieving 75 per cent vaccine coverage would not be sufficient to protect Manitobans against the coronavirus.
A program was to be announced last week after the government conducted a survey of Manitobans’ attitudes toward vaccine incentives, but the launch has been pushed back.
Asked Tuesday about the government's plans for the immunization initiative, Pallister was non-committal.
"I understand the Free Press wants us to release our vax incentive plan now but we’ll release it in due course," Pallister said, adding no other provinces in Canada is using an incentive program.
Some jurisdictions in the United States have already use vaccine incentives, such as lotteries, to increase uptake. In Manitoba, First Nations communities have offered band members a chance to win door prizes if they signed up for vaccination.
Reimer said the Manitoba government has enlisted the help of health and risk communication experts from the University of Manitoba to help create the incentive program and ensure people are confident in the vaccine.
"Part of the reason that no incentive program has been announced is we want to make sure we do it in a way that truly does incentivize people without at the same time (disincentivizing) many other people," Reimer said.
The doctor said the task force is considering a variety of incentives and benefits that would be rolled out slowly.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.