Austin Public Health offers $50 gift cards as incentive to get COVID shots
Anyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot at an Austin Public Health vaccination event will be eligible to receive a $50 Visa gift card, the agency said Monday.
APH said it hopes this incentive will be helpful for people who would have to take unpaid time off work in order to get vaccinated.
The agency also noted that the number of people seeking vaccines has stagnated. As of March 1, it said, only 38% of Austin-Travis County residents had received a booster shot. Additionally, nearly 60% of Black residents had not received any COVID-19 vaccine, compared to around 40% of Hispanic residents and 37% of white residents. Vaccination rates are lowest among young children between 6 months and 4 years old; just 10% of them have received a COVID vaccine.
According to APH, there’s good reason to take care of any outstanding shots as soon as possible. The Biden administration announced plans earlier this year to let the federal public health emergency for COVID-19 expire on May 11.
Access to free vaccines is not directly tied to the public health emergency declaration, but to the federal government’s purchase of vaccines. Absent additional funding from Congress to replenish the federal stockpile of vaccines, the administration has said it anticipates transitioning them to the commercial marketplace soon. Once that happens, people with private insurance and Medicare will likely continue to receive vaccines for free. However, Medicaid recipients may have to pay some portion of the cost of vaccinations themselves after a few months, and uninsured people may have to pay up front.
While no official date for this transition has been announced, Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said APH is not taking anything for granted after the public health emergency ends.
“There's a lot of conversation about when things will ultimately be over for good," she said. "We know that we're going to have a supply of vaccine available, and those vaccine providers that are out in the community will still be able to give that vaccine for free. But the issue will come with whether there will be an administration fee charged by certain people and not others. Those things are yet to be worked out."
In addition to vaccines, APH also expects that free test kits will no longer be available through most people’s insurance after May 11. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also indicated that once the federal stockpile of the COVID treatment Paxlovid has been depleted, likely in mid-2023, the drug will transition to the private marketplace, potentially causing a spike in the price.