As India’s federal government struggles to meet its objective of fully vaccinating its entire adult population of about one billion against Covid-19 by year end, several state governments and private organisations are offering incentives to help it secure this goal.
To draw people to vaccination centres, the local authorities in New Delhi are offering parents preferential kindergarten admission for their children, while those in western Gujarat state are promising a litre of cooking oil to those who receive two jabs.
Last month a local district official in India's central Madhya Pradesh state had announced a 10 per cent discount on alcohol for people who had taken two vaccine shots, but was forced to withdraw his offer after a local legislator protested that such an incentive would encourage drinking.
Private organisations including McDonald’s have also launched incentive campaigns on their mobile applications, under which customers can avail of discounts by uploading their government-issued vaccination certificates.
Grofers, an online grocery store, is offering its vaccinated patrons a month’s free subscription to their Smart Bachat (Savings) Club, lower prices for consumables, priority delivery slots and early access to their periodic sales.
Cable television service provider Dish TV is advancing "one-day worth of entertainment" free to customers who upload their vaccination details on to the company website, while the state-owned Central Bank of India is offering inoculated customers a marginally higher rate of interest on their fixed deposits.
So far about 85 per cent of Indians have been partially vaccinated, while some 58 per cent have received two jabs, leaving hundreds of millions of adults at risk in the face of the surge involving the Omicron variant of the virus.
Last month federal health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said several million people who had received their first jab had yet to turn up for their second, mistakenly believing themselves to be sufficiently immunised against the virus.
The steady drop in the daily number of virus cases to below 10,000 for some three weeks until early December is considered to have further fuelled complacency about the need for a second dose.
Since the Covid-19 inoculation programme began earlier this year, most Indians have received either the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is licence-manufactured locally as Covishield, or the indigenously developed Covaxin, alongside limited quantities of Russian Sputnik V doses.
Healthcare workers said there was widespread vaccine hesitancy across rural India where the majority of the country's 1.3 billion people live, as many believed the vaccine was more dangerous than the virus itself.
India has registered more than 34.7 million Covid-19 cases and some 478,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and so far has recorded about 200 Omicron cases countrywide.
Dr V K Paul, who is heading India's anti-virus drive, recently warned that extrapolating the rapid proliferation of Omicron cases in Europe on to India's vast population suggested the country could face a daily infection rate of about 1.5 million.