- People 60 and older will automatically be invited to accept R100 in what is effectively free money after they are vaccinated, from Monday.
- All they have to do is provide the right cellphone number on registration, then say yes to a Shoprite voucher.
- The incentive scheme is a pilot, the department of health says, one it hopes to extend to those older than 50.
- The money is intended to make up for the cost of transport, and get people over the hump of hesitation that has vaccination numbers flat.
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* This article has been updated below.
From Monday, 1 November, some South Africans will effectively be paid to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. And, if that goes well, more people may soon be eligible for something close to cash in return for taking the jab.
The department of health on Friday announced the details of the new "Vooma Vouchers", for people aged 60 and over, who will receive R100 in the form of a Shoprite voucher that can be spent at any Checkers, Usave, or Shoprite store. The vouchers can also be gifted, with the intention that those not close enough to a store to use it can send it on to family or friends.
The money will be very nearly automatically paid, the department said. After they get the shot, anyone in the right age group is due to receive an SMS, to the number provided when they registered on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS). They must respond, via a free SMS, in effect giving permission for a Shoprite account to be created for them, and provide their ID or passport number.
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Those SMSes are expected to start going out on 4 November, though anyone of the right age vaccinated from 1 November should get one.
The vouchers are valid for 30 days after they are issued. They can be used to buy electricity, cellphone data, or groceries, but can not be directly exchanged for cash.
Those coming in for a second dose of Pfizer are not eligible.
R26 million worth of vouchers will be issued on a first-come-first-served basis, said health minister Joe Phaahla, making for 260,000 recipients.
At present, fewer than 6,000 people in the sixty-plus age group receive a vaccine every day.
The scheme is due to run until the end of November, if the available vouchers last that long, but the department of health hopes to extend it. It is a pilot, said Phaahla – and it "would be fantastic" to extend it to people 50 and older, said David Harrison, lead of the department's Vaccination Demand Task Team.
According to the latest available statistics, some 62% of women and 64% of men 60 and above have received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine. For the age group 50 to 59, that falls to roughly 56% across both men and women. If the current rate remains unchanged, the government expects 1.8 million people over 60 to still be unvaccinated at the dawn of 2022.
The pilot Vooma Voucher scheme is due to see a big promotional campaign starting next week.
The idea is to "overcome the cost of getting to the vaccination [site]", by covering at least taxi fare, said Harrison. But the hope is also that the incentive gets older people over any anxieties about vaccination, and that they take back to their communities the message that getting a jab is simple and easy.
The Shoprite vouchers are being sponsored by a number of philanthropic organisations, including the DG Murray Trust, Allan and Gill Gray Philanthropy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Elma Vaccine and Immunization Foundation, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.
* This article was updated after publication to include details on the use of vouchers.
(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)