Travis County healthcare district offers COVID vaccine incentives

Central Health, Travis County’s healthcare district, is offering gift card incentives to encourage people to get the COVID-19 shot at pop-up vaccine events in high-risk communities where vaccination rates are lagging as an explosive increase in COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions is seen across the country–primarily among the unvaccinated population.

In Travis County, more than 90 percent of COVID hospitalizations are among individuals who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine has proven effective at keeping people from contracting the virus, and most importantly, keeping those who do contract it from being hospitalized or dying.

Working with the Travis County Mobile Vaccine Collaborative and Austin Public Health, Central Health is offering $25 gift cards at pop-up vaccine events at JD Supermarkets for people who get their first dose. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m., JD Supermarkets hosts vaccine clinics at four locations. Only three of which are offering gift card incentives:

  • 9111 FM 812, Austin, TX 78719
  • 6506 Decker Lane, Austin, TX 78724
  • 8807 Cameron Road, Austin, TX 78754

Unvaccinated shoppers are offered a vaccine on the spot. If it’s their first dose and they complete a brief survey, they receive a $25 gift card.

On Saturday, July 24, Central Health will also partner with Austin Public Health to incentivize vaccines at three locations:

  • Little Walnut Creek Library: 835 W Rundberg Ln., Austin; 10 a.m. –  2 p.m. for people ages 12 and above.
  • Virginia L Brown Recreation Center:  7500 Blessing Ave, Austin; 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. for people ages 12 and above.
  • Turner-Roberts Recreation Center: 7200 Colony Loop Dr., Austin;  10 a.m. –  2 p.m. . for people ages 12 and above.

"Incentives are working," Central Health Sr. Director of Community Health & Wellness Initiatives Elizabeth Marrero said. "We’ve distributed more than 600 gift cards and each one represents a first dose. We’ve had people call family members and friends to come by to get a gift card and a vaccine. To end this pandemic, we’ll do whatever it takes to get people vaccinated, and this type of nudge is proven to change behavior."

As of July 8, Central Health had surveyed 209 people at vaccine pop-up events. Of those, 64 said they’d previously been offered a vaccine but declined. The most common reasons were inconvenience, lack of vaccine information, and concerns about safety and side effects. Those getting the vaccine and receiving a gift card said the most important information they needed was that the vaccine had been tested and is safe, and knowledge that getting sick with COVID-19 is worse than the possible side effects of the vaccine. 

For the best protection against COVID-19 and its variants, and to avoid serious complications of the virus, individuals should make sure to get both doses of the vaccine.

Delta Variant Increasing Infections and Hospitalizations

The rapidly increasing spread of the Delta variant in Travis County is prompting Austin-Travis County to move to Stage 4 of the Austin Public Health (APH) Risk-Based Guidelines. This means even if someone is fully vaccinated, they should wear a mask whenever they leave home to travel, shop, dine or attend private gatherings.

"Our community is facing a new challenge in our fight against COVID-19 and its variants, but if we stick together, we can beat it," Central Health President & CEO Mike Geeslin said. "The only way to blunt this surge and prevent variants like Delta is to be an active part of the solution – get everyone in our community vaccinated and keep wearing masks. It means having conversations about the importance of taking precautions with people we know and see every day. We need do what we can, where and when we can, to beat this virus."

The University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium recently published projections indicating if the Delta variant continues to emerge and vaccination rates remain at the current pace, then COVID-19 hospitalizations will increase exponentially. This surge will once again place healthcare capacity in the region at risk, overtaxing doctors, nurses and putting the County at risk of running out of available beds for anyone needing hospital or even emergency care.

"As a person who was born and raised in Southeast Travis County in one of the most impacted communities by the pandemic, I can say now more than ever: it is critical that we stick together as a community," said Constable George Morales, Travis County Pct. 4. "Our Travis County mobile Vaccine team is dedicated to providing these life-saving vaccines to our most vulnerable neighbors in locations that are safe, convenient, and accessible."

According to Austin Public Health, 53% of Travis County residents are fully vaccinated while 70% have received the first dose. However, vaccine rates for certain groups are lagging, putting them at the focus of efforts for Central Health and its affiliate CommUnityCare Health Centers:

  • Only 28% of African Americans have been vaccinated.
  • 39% of Hispanic/Latinos have been vaccinated. However, vaccination rates for this population have increased the most over previous weeks.
  • The Asian community has the highest vaccine rate at 76%.

"We can’t rest until everyone in our community is vaccinated," Central Health Board of Managers Chairperson Sherri Greenberg said.  "This means taking extraordinary measures to vaccinate communities of color, people with low income and those without health insurance – the people impacted most by inequities in our healthcare system and hurt most by this pandemic." 

Officials move Austin-Travis County to Stage 4 of COVID guidelines
Gov. Greg Abbott says he won’t impose new mask mandate despite increasing COVID-19 cases
What makes the Delta Variant of COVID-19 so different?

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