Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Tuesday afternoon that the $100 vaccine incentive program that has corresponded with a significant rise in COVID-19 vaccination rates has been extended through September 14.
The program which rewards first dose COVID-19 vaccine recipients with a $100 gift card had been scheduled to expire Tuesday. The money for the program is coming from federal funds through the American Rescue Plan.
“To get more people to participate, we are expanding our program for two more weeks,” Hidalgo said. “We hope our partners will help us spread the word.”
Last week, Hidalgo declared that since August 17 when the incentive program began, the county had seen a 706 percent increase in vaccinations provided by the county compared to before the $100 gift cards were offered.
The $100 incentive program originally only covered folks who got their first vaccine dose from Harris County Public Health, but on Friday, Hidalgo announced the program had been expanded to all county residents who got their first shots anywhere within the county, so long as they can provide proof of residence and vaccination through an online form on the county’s website
“I’m thrilled to see the numbers,” Hidalgo said, “They exceeded our wildest expectations, and we continue to see this incredibly high participation over the past few days.”
Following Harris County’s lead, the City of Houston last week announced its own vaccine incentive program through which Houstonians can get up to $150 in gift cards when they get vaccinated at certain city-sponsored clinics
. The Houston Health Department has said the program as currently constructed has enough funding to give payouts to 20,000 Houstonians, and had not publicly announced how many city residents had received incentives as of Tuesday afternoon.
Hidalgo mentioned that while “there are some signs we may be reaching a peak to the spike” of COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant in the greater Houston area, “the numbers are [still] catastrophically high right now. They are off the charts. Right now, the work needs to continue to actually bring those numbers way down.”
She said that since August 11, 1,300 nurses have been recruited to Harris County to assist with the local surge that’s left hospitals dangerously full in recent weeks, and 2,000 nurses total had been sent to the 25 county region surrounding the county.
Hidalgo also brought up the story of Daniel Wilkinson, a 46-year-old Belllville, TX resident and U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. Wilkinson died from pancreatitis just over a week ago because his small-town hospital was unequipped to perform the surgery he needed, and because no Houston hospital had enough room to take him in until it was too late.
“We lost him to gallstone pancreatitis, a completely treatable illness, simply because he couldn’t find a hospital bed,” Hidalgo said. “There weren’t staffed beds available for the routine surgery that he needed because of the surge in unvaccinated COVID patients in our hospitals.”
“Our nurses, our doctors, our medical personnel are feeling physically and mentally drained. We’re doing everything we can do to support them as government, but we need the community to support them,” Hidalgo said.
“So even if you don’t want to do it for yourself, if you don’t want to get the vaccine for yourself, do it for our nurses,” she continued. “Do it for our medical workers, and do it for our veterans like Daniel Wilkinson.”