*Tesco has defended its decision to offer readers a 10% discount in exchange for passing on vaccination details to the company after receiving criticism from two health charities.
A pamphlet promoted by the retailer offers a free certificate in return for complete details of members’ blood type, height, weight, age, gender, breast size, location and ethnicity. Tesco refused to say whether it receives a cut of the fee, the only way it could be verified.
The company’s move comes amid a backlash against increased uptake of vaccines among teenagers after a study published in January found the apparent “positive association” between vaccines and preventing measles among young adults was “very much under review”.
But Paul Farmer, the chief executive of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity, described Tesco’s initiative as “rather cynical” and said that he would be discussing it with the campaign group Vaxefinder.
“While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bribery, it certainly appears unethical,” Farmer said. “When it comes to public health, it seems almost a retrograde step to be encouraging people to contact people to provide more information in exchange for something that is a genuine NHS value. The implied government message is: vaccinate or pay and at the same time the message is: vaccinate or be discriminated against.”
Tesco would not discuss how it determines which customers are entitled to the offer, or whether it receives any payment or percentage from the voucher draw, citing confidentiality.
Andrea Krivo, chief executive of Vaxefinder, said: “Tesco’s voucher scheme is confusing and dangerous. All of the pieces to this jigsaw make it dangerous. If you don’t give a blood sample, you lose your voucher. If you’re confused, how could you possibly vaccinate?”
On its website, Tesco says: “If you take part in this event and are 18 or over, we will send you a voucher for a value of £10, including your national insurance number, and we’ll be in touch to let you know when the voucher is ready to redeem.”
Krivo said that a separate marketing campaign from another food chain, Pret A Manger, earlier this month, in which staff passed on vaccination details to consumers, did not appear to comply with the UK’s child protection regulations.
She said she was concerned about young women, many of whom are on low incomes, who will be able to see the voucher and think it represents a discount in return for accepting vaccination.
The promotion also includes an offer of £10 off if a customer’s measurements are under 5ft 9in. Farmer said Tesco’s sample was “dated” and that while his organisation did not have a problem with shoppers’ bodies being accurate, some measures, such as “small size nines” for boys, were “too big and scary”.
He also questioned whether private clinics were offering the voucher directly to people who have received “over-the-counter” vaccinations. “You’d think more private clinics would pick up a product like this,” he said.
NHS guidelines say people over the age of five should have a minimum of two doses of a vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (pertussis) and polio, while the UK’s other childhood diseases including mumps, measles, rubella and whooping cough are also available on the NHS.
Paul Farmer, the chief executive of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We want more people to have the immunisation they need to protect themselves and keep the country safe. [That is] why we are increasing funding for free vaccines for five-year-olds and ensuring that more vulnerable groups, such as young children living in very deprived communities, can get the free vaccinations to keep them protected.”
The spokesman said vaccinations “can save lives, protect the public from serious and potentially fatal diseases and make communities more resilient”.
He said the government had put in place a £912m package of funding for immunisation programmes, including the school-based MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and Varicella (chickenpox).
The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has pledged that every school in England will have MMR vaccination – one of the costliest programmes carried out by the NHS – by September.