The proposal comes as county staff say 56% of Tarrant County residents age 12 and older have been fully vaccinated.
With just two of the court’s commissioners outwardly in support of continuing to discuss the program, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley told Tarrant County Administrator G.K. Maenius to bring the program back before the court if one more of the other three commissioners voiced support for further discussion.
Whitley had asked county staff on Sept. 7 to put together the memorandum on the possibility of such a program, one that took into account the incentive programs in other Texas counties, such as Harris and Dallas counties. Commissioners were presented with that memorandum Sept. 13. It was reviewed during Tuesday’s meeting.
The program outlined by county staff would include an incentive of $50-$100 in the form of a physical or digital gift card.
Whitley said he supports the idea of an incentive, noting the success other counties have had, but said the court would need to work out several details. Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks also expressed support for the program.
“I think that the only way we are going to get past this pandemic is to get shots in arms,” Brooks said. “We’ve got to get much higher than that [current vaccination rate], and if it requires incentives to get there, I’m prepared to try it.”
Commissioner Gary Fickes, whose Precinct 3 includes Grapevine, Colleyville, Southlake, Keller and parts of northern Fort Worth, said he does not support the program.
“I think paying them is not the way to do it,” Fickes said. “It’s just crazy.”
Commissioner Devan Allen said she is open to the discussion but is undecided, citing concerns over how eligible sites would be determined and whether $50 is enough to move the needle for vaccine-hesitant residents. She also cautioned that in spite of the urgency that spurred the idea, the court should do its diligence.
“I understand that we want to move forward quickly,” Allen said. “In rushing, we have made mistakes and not thoroughly vetted things as much as we need to.”
Commissioner J.D. Johnson did not indicate a position on the program.
County staff outlined a number of suggestions and considerations for the court, were it to go forward with such a program. Those suggestions included requiring that the incentive be available to any resident receiving a first or second dose at a Tarrant County Public Health vaccination site. Staff also recommended a window for the first run of the program, suggesting Oct. 15-31, and then reevaluating based on success.
Finally, staff suggested allocating $5 million for the first run of the program, enough for 100,000 vaccinations at $50 each, and further suggested that the funds for the first run of the program might come from Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF) through the federal government.
The next time the program could be discussed would be the court’s Sept. 21 meeting.
Whitley responded to some skepticism about the program’s ability to move the needle among the county’s unvaccinated population. He cited not only the success Harris County has had—the memorandum cites a 706% increase in daily vaccination rates due to the program there, according to Harris County staff—but also the intent to persuade the hesitant and those who have procrastinated.
“They [Harris County] are having success getting not the folks who are anti-vaxxers—they’re not going to get it regardless—but the people that are sitting on the sidelines and for whatever reason haven’t chosen to go out and get it,” Whitley said. “That has seemed to be successful.”