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Viewpoint: Linking Stormont’s Covid High Street vouchers to jabs is a non-starter 

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

As the number of people being hospitalised and also being admitted to intensive care units continues to rise, Health Minister Robin Swann is desperately trying to encourage more people to get vaccinated against Covid.

Currently the vaccination figure stands at just over 82% — a tremendous achievement given the pressures facing the health service.

But, ideally, officials would like more than 90% of people to have received both vaccination injections.

That, according to scientific modelling, would drastically curtail the spread of the virus and allow people to return to a greater normality of life.

The problem is how to incentivise those who have not received even one vaccination yet to get the jabs.

There will always be a percentage who are opposed to vaccinations no matter how logical the argument presented to them is, but there is also a significant number of younger people who are simply not bothering to take up the offer.

They may change their minds if admission to music festivals — two of which are happening soon in Belfast — requires proof of vaccination, or similar demands are made by popular holiday destinations.

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That age cohort will forgo many things, but live music and holidays are seen as must have attractions.

Mr Swann’s suggestion that the high street voucher scheme (everyone over the age of 18 will be entitled to a pre-paid £100 card to spend in local shops) should be linked to full vaccination, however, should be a non-starter.

It would be fraught with all kinds of dangers, not least resistance from those who would miss out on the money.

They would feel victimised and would be liable to ignore all future advice, guidance or regulations introduced by the power-sharing administration.

Exempting non-vaccinated people from the voucher scheme would also be open to legal challenge as it could be regarded as an attack on an individual’s rights.

Another danger would be confusing the public on what the voucher scheme is designed for.

If it was regarded as an incentive to get vaccinated, many people would not bother to apply for it and the local retail economy would miss out on a valuable shot-in-the-arm.

To his credit, Mr Swann has not committed to the idea and will discuss it with his Executive colleagues, who would be well advised to reject it.

However, they should still seek a workable alternative to boost vaccine take-up.


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