PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovakia is to give cash handouts to people over 60 who get vaccinated against the coronavirus or have their booster shot, aiming to spur inoculation rates lagging others in the European Union.
Parliament approved the payments on Thursday, giving the go-ahead to a proposal by the government which had at first considered handing out vouchers for hotels or restaurants but opted instead on payouts.
Those receiving booster shots by mid-January will get 300 euros ($340), while over-60s who sign up for the vaccine by that time are entitled to 200 euros.
Slovakia is not the first country to offer incentives to get vaccinated. Switzerland in October offered citizens who persuaded their friends to get COVID-19 shots free restaurant meals or cinema outings.
The U.S. city of Houston in August said it would pay $100 to any person receiving a first dose of a COVID vaccine.
Slovakia, with a population of 5.5 million, has been severely hit by the latest wave of the epidemic, forcing it to revert again to lockdown measures while hospitals filled.
As of Wednesday, it had the world’s second-highest infection rate over the past week, according to Our World in Data.
But Slovakia remains well behind other countries in the EU in vaccinating its population, with 68% of people over 60 age fully vaccinated – the third lowest uptake in the bloc after Bulgaria and Romania and below 88% in all of the EU.
Among Slovakia’s total population, 46.5% are fully vaccinated, below the EU average of 66.8%, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The government has discussed making vaccines for older people compulsory but has yet to reach an agreement. Other countries have sought similar mandates for seniors, as in Greece, while Austria is looking at mandatory vaccines for all.
Many in Slovakia are sceptical towards the vaccines as some opposition figures, including former Prime Minister Robert Fico, are demeaning the shot and questioning its efficiency.
Slovak hospitals have filled amid the new wave of cases, putting pressure on healthcare. On Wednesday, the government extended many lockdown measures until Jan. 9 but opened shops for the vaccinated.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Nick Macfie)