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Austin-Travis County May Consider Incentives To Get Folks Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Matthew Ruiz gets vaccinated agains COVID-19 at a clinic on Saturday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Matthew Ruiz gets vaccinated agains COVID-19 at a clinic in March.

More than 40% of adults in Travis County are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and nearly 58% have received at least one dose, Austin's interim medical director said Tuesday.

Still, Dr. Mark Escott told a joint session of Travis County commissioners and the Austin City Council, reaching herd immunity in the area is going to be a difficult task.

“Because of the variability in vaccine availability, because of the challenge of having a worldwide pandemic with multiple hot spots which shift around the world, it’s going to make it very challenging — if not impossible — to rid us, to eradicate COVID-19,” Escott said.

Brigid Shea, county commissioner for Precinct 2, asked if Austin Public Health has explored offering incentives to get more members of the community vaccinated.

Escott said some evidence from other parts of the country shows incentives “push people over the edge" and get them motivated to get a vaccine.

In Detroit, for example, officials are offering a $50 pre-paid debit card to anyone who will drive a neighbor to a vaccine appointment. The governor of West Virginia has offered $100 savings bonds to those 35 and under in an attempt to increase vaccination rates.

“I think we do need to have a discussion about incentives,” he said. “There’s a fine line between incentives and coercion, and we need to make sure that people are making a free choice to get [the vaccine] or not get it.”

District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said incentivizing vaccines is “an important and critical strategy” toward reaching groups with lower vaccination rates.

“We know that there is significant hesitancy in the Latino community,” she said. “And 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.”

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have decreased 25% over the past two weeks in Austin-Travis County.

Austin Public Health officials have adjusted the thresholds that assess the level of COVID-19 risk to the greater Austin area, determined by the seven-day average of new hospitalizations.

City of Austin
City of Austin

The threshold for stage 3 guidelines, the current level of community risk, is now an average of between 15 and 29 daily new hospitalizations; the stage 2 threshold is now between 5 and 15 new hospitalizations. There were 11 new admissions Monday, bringing the current average to 17.

“Additionally, we modified the trigger for going down to stage 1 from 0 to 5,” Escott said. “The reason for that is that we expect there’s going to be a long tail in terms of achieving herd immunity or getting COVID-19 out of our community.”

APH Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said her office is working on creating a calendar of vaccine opportunities so people can see when and where they can get vaccinated.

Got a tip? Email Jerry Quijano at Follow him on Twitter@jerryquijano.

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Jerry Quijano is the local All Things Considered anchor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
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