Alachua County approves vaccine incentives

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved financial incentives for citizens and county employees who receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks.

Multiple commissioners commented that they were saddened by the need to roll out financial motivation.

“It’s really sad to me that we have to do this program,” Commissioner Mary Alford said. “I agree with Commissioner (Anna) Prizzia that the number of people and the number of programs that we could have helped with that money, rather than trying to incentivize people to do the right thing, makes me very sad.”

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But all the commissioners saw the need to approve the funds that will come from the American Rescue Plan ACT (ARPA).

The three-part motion provides $50 per citizen who gets vaccinated at partner locations, $500 to county employees and a monthly $10 premium reduction to employees per family member vaccinated.

“We’re not where we need to be,” County manager Michele Lieberman said. “Hopefully, this employee incentive will move the needle; if it does not move the needle after September 15, I will be back to you to discuss the option of mandatory vaccinations.”

For the citizen program, the maximum cost stands at $4.5 million—the price to reach a 100 percent vaccination rate. The county also set a timeline, the incentives start Sept. 1 and ends Sept. 30 with the option to expand past the end date.

However, the county’s realistic goal is for an additional 45,000 citizens to get vaccinated, sending the county total to 81 percent of those eligible for vaccination.

The cost for an additional 45,000 citizens at $50 per person (or $25 per shot) is $2.25 million, and the county included UF students in those costs. But the incentive is not retroactive.

The county plans to partner with local vaccine providers like Walmart, CVS and Sam’s Club. Alford also asked that local pharmacies like Wise’s be included in the list.

But so far, none of the local partners have signed onto the program as the county continues to talk with the companies, and the county is unsure who will come on board by Sept. 1.

On the employee side, the BOCC set a deadline of Sept. 15 for the first shot to qualify for the incentives. Lieberman initially discussed $100 per employee at the Aug. 3 BOCC meeting. 

“If we prevent two employees from being hospitalized in the ICU, this program has already paid for itself,” Lieberman said, adding that one employee in ICU can cost the county over half a million dollars.

County employees will receive $500 for being fully vaccinated (or $250 per shot). This applies to all employees of the BOCC and its constitutional officers.

To achieve a 100 percent vaccination rate among employees, the board would spend $1.2 million.

Plus, the board approved a monthly $10 premium reduction for employees who receive the vaccine. The reduction will last for the entire fiscal year and includes family members covered under that healthcare plan.

Meaning a vaccinated employee with four vaccinated family members under the healthcare family plan can get a $50 reduction every month. The maximum for this plan is a $50 reduction.

BOCC chair Ken Cornell said 90 to 95 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated by their own choice. He said the county has staff currently in the ICU.

“We also know that we’re self-insured and that there’s a taxpayer cost to that care,” Cornell said. “And if we can get folks vaccinated, we may prevent a six figure hospitalization bill that the taxpayers have to pay for.”

Lieberman said if the incentives to vaccinate county employees fails to sufficiently increase vaccinations, she would return to the BOCC with an option for mandatory vaccination.

She said the county is also looking to only hire vaccinated employees after a certain date. Staff are considering Sept. 15 for that start date.

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