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Austin-Travis County could consider incentives to combat vaccine hesitancy

Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said while incentives could help, policymakers need to make sure people are making a free choice.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-Travis County is considering providing incentives to residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a way to combat vaccine hesitancy, Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said on Tuesday.

In a joint session between Travis County commissioners and the Austin City Council, Dr. Escott said evidence from other places around the country showed incentives can help motivate some to get vaccinated.

“I think we do need to have a discussion about incentives,” he told the joint session. “There’s a fine line between incentives and coercion, and we need to make sure that people are making a free choice.”

City Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes expressed support for the idea, saying there has been significant vaccine hesitancy in the Latino community.

“In order for us to really move the needle on vaccinating, particularly the Latino community, I think incentives [have] to be part of that conversation,” she said.

As vaccine surplus increases amid dropping demand, some states and localities, as well as businesses, are offering freebies to those who get vaccinated.

RELATED: Your employer can offer you incentives to take the COVID-19 vaccine

West Virginia will give $100 savings bonds to people 16 to 35 who get the vaccine. Tarrant County is considering paying people $50 to get the shot. Detroit is giving $50 pre-paid debit cards if you drive someone to get their shot.

Major employers like McDonald's, Dollar General, Trader Joe's, Target and others announced they would offer incentives for workers who receive the vaccine. Those incentives include a monetary bonus or paid time off. Krispy Kreme is offering free doughnuts to vaccinated customers.

Texas has started to see demand for vaccines drop in the past weeks. On Tuesday, Williamson County provider Curative told KVUE it had to turn down more doses this week from the State as it deals with a vaccine surplus.

Dr. Escott stressed the importance of vaccines in helping the community return to normal.

“We want people to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Escott. “Now and certainly in the future as the vaccination rate improves, there will be improved freedom associated with vaccination. In other words, the need to continue masking and the other necessary precautions will continue to decrease for those who are vaccinated.”

With more than 40% of adults fully vaccinated, Austin-Travis County has adjusted the criteria for the county’s risk-based guidelines. While the Austin area remains in Stage 3, the threshold is now an average of between 15 and 29 daily new hospitalizations. The Stage 2 threshold is now between 5 and 15 new hospitalizations.

“As a result of both declining length of hospital stays and declining mortality rates, we feel comfortable reassessing the transition of stages,” added Dr. Escott. “We expect that there is going to be a long tail in terms of achieving vaccine herd immunity or completely getting COVID-19 out of our community. So, we expect that we may see a slow declining plateau of cases, and as the vaccination rate improves in the community, and we hit 70% to 90% vaccinated we could look at transitioning to Stage 1 safely.”


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