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San Antonio Metro Health Will Offer Thousands Of $100 H-E-B Gift Cards To Incentivize COVID-19 Vaccinations

Courtesy H-E-B

You can read this story in Spanish by clicking here.

San Antonio Metropolitan Health District will begin using $100 H-E-B gift cards as incentives for getting a COVID-19 vaccine this month.

In a 9-1 vote, the San Antonio City Council approved using $1 million of federal coronavirus funds to purchase 10,000 gift cards from the San Antonio-based grocery chain. The cards will be provided to people who started the vaccine series after July 31 of this year. Some of the details remain unclear as Metro Health irons out final plans following council approval on Thursday.

In Bexar County, approximately 70% of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated with around 86% of the same group receiving at least one dose, as of Sept. 9. Metro Health Director Claude Jacob said the intent is to encourage people who have not received a shot to start the process as soon as possible.

“This virus, this variant, punishes the procrastinators. So, we're trying to do our best to incentivize the folks who are still on the fence. We now have an opportunity to use these federal funds and we're going to keep pushing this out,” he said.

The eligibility threshold comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jacob said.

“Awarding retroactive incentives to those who are already vaccinated is not aligned with the purpose of the guidance requirements and is not permissible,” he said. “The CDC released guidance on July 30 to expand incentives to those who were unvaccinated against COVID-19 as of… July 31 are eligible to receive the up to $100 incentive.”

The vaccination must have occurred at one of Metro Health’s vaccination sites like the Alamodome or one ofthe pop-up temporary sites. The gift cards will be given to individuals who receive either the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Currently Metro Health is conducting two pop-up clinics per day – each is doing about 60 to 70 vaccinations per day with 150 per day happening at the Alamodome.

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In order to receive the gift card, recipients must sign a voucher indicating their name, date of birth, residence, zip code dates of doses administered and the type of vaccine administered. The form will also have a statement stating that the purchase of alcohol and tobacco products, lottery tickets, weapons and ammunition are prohibited with the gift card, Jacob said.

Details about residency or age requirements for incentives were not immediately available.

The vote passed 9-1 with District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez voting “no” and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg recusing himself from the vote as his wife works for H-E-B.

Pelaez said he would vote no because paying people to take the vaccine would be manipulative for people experiencing economic distress during the pandemic.

“I feel like voting for this would be taking a patronizing stance and send the wrong message to the people that don't trust vaccines. And I'm not talking about the lunatics,” he said. “I'm talking about people who just have a general mistrust of government and, you know, big pharma and all that. And so and I feel like this smacks of paternalism and it treats adults like children.”

District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said she didn’t want people who were down on their luck to feel manipulated but added that the gift cards could be an important tool to fighting the pandemic.

“When it comes to changing a health behavior that could improve your health, what we see is that financial incentives also have the possibility to reduce health disparities,” she said. “And if we know anything, it's that San Antonio has health disparities and we know that the coronavirus has highlighted those health disparities and that we are still working very hard to close the gap.”

Metro Health is expected to begin offering the gift cards by the end of September.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules