Of the county’s 2.2 million residents, approximately 56 percent of those eligible are vaccinated. The commissioners court seemed to agree with the goal of upping the vaccination rate among residents; however, they disagreed about incentives.
Republican county Judge Glen Whitley suggested offering $50 to those who receive the vaccine during a certain period this fall.
“I see it as something that will be spent in the local area and could put several million dollars back into the economy,” Whitley stated.
But Whitley also expressed concerns about rewarding those who have procrastinated. He said he’d like to find a way to reward others who have already been vaccinated, but understands the difficulties that may arise.
Commissioner Gary Fickes (R-Pct. 3) opposed the incentive plan, calling it “bad policy.” He said he does not believe that $50 will incentivize those who have waited until now to get the injection and also believes it sets a bad precedent for future public health concerns.
Commissioner Devan Allen (D-Pct. 2) was undecided about supporting the proposal but for a different reason; she didn’t think $50 was sufficient to provide an incentive. She also acknowledged that receiving a vaccination is a personal health decision, and some people who are hesitating have mistrust or legitimate health issues to consider.
Commissioner Roy Brooks (D-Pct. 1) supports an incentive plan. “The only way we are going to get past this pandemic is to get shots in more arms,” he said.
According to a staff memo, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services outlined several conditions under which vaccine incentives could be offered, such as the vaccine has to be authorized, the incentive is given “in connection with receiving a required dose of a COVID-19 vaccine,” and insurance coverage can not be taken into account.
Whitley suggested that fiscal recovery funds being distributed to the county by the federal government could be used for the incentives, but that he might also ask cities or the state for matching funds.
County staff pointed to several questions that must be considered in adopting any vaccine incentive program.
- Would only Tarrant County residents be eligible?
- Would only Tarrant County public health vaccination sites distribute the incentives?
- Would the incentives be a cash app transfer or a tangible gift card?
- What would be the eligibility time frame and for how many doses?
- How much should the incentive be?
- What is the source of funding?
Harris County offered a $100 incentive and believed it was successful so extended it by two weeks. According to Harris County officials, “there was a 706% increase in daily vaccination rates (from 431 doses per day) as a result of the incentive program.”
Dallas County began an incentive program last week and is offering $25 gift cards, Six Flags tickets, and Dallas Zoo tickets to those who take advantage.
The court took no action on the incentive program on Tuesday with Whitley telling the county administrator to put it back on the agenda “when one of the three [other court members] decide they are ready to move it forward or at least discuss it.”
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.