Desperate to boost vaccination rates, the city of Gadsden in Etowah County is offering cash to any resident who gets the shots, but don’t expect Mobile to imitate the idea.
Gadsden officials announced a plan Tuesday to use money from its $24 million share of the American Rescue Plan Act. The money is available to any residents who completes the vaccination regimen by October. In addition, two out of every 500 people who participate with win $5,000 drawings.
“There are skeptics, those who say, ‘Why should we have to pay people,’ and I agree with that,” said Deborah Gaither, the Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency director. “And I heard the governor say we don’t need to have incentives, but at this point, if it’s going to help us have a healthier community the rest of this year, we really need to try anything we can.”
Gadsden city spokesman Michael Rodgers told FOX10 News that since the city just announced the program Tuesday, officials do not know what to expect.
“We certainly hope that this will incentivize people to get the vaccine,” he said. “It is too early to tell. Just because the, the program, it takes time.”
Mobile is getting more than $58 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. Mayor Sandy Stimpson has proposed spending it on bonuses for city workers, affordable housing, broadband and a number of other priorities.
City spokeswoman Candace Cooksey told FOX10 News that the mayor does not intend to alter those plans now.
“We have provided a clear and transparent proposal for our ARP funding,” she said in a statement. “Our plan focuses on reversing negative economic impacts of COVID-19 including helping residents who need financial assistance with rent, utilities and fighting evictions; expanding affordable housing in the City of Mobile, addressing gun violence, and providing premium pay for essential City employees.”
City Council President Levon Manzie indicated that he favors outreach efforts.
“While I think it’s an interesting concept, I’m hopeful that we won’t have to utilize these precious resources to encourage and incentivize our citizens to be proactive about protecting their health and the health and safety of those around them,” he said in a statement. “I am open to innovative ideas but I’m also hopeful that the notion of saving someone’s life and protecting our individual health would be encouragement enough for our citizens to get their COVID-19 vaccine.”
In Mobile County, only 36 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. That’s a tad better than Etowah County. As a state, Alabama ranks dead last in the country.
Back in June, Mobile County Health Officer Dr. Bert Eichold told FOX10 News he was planning to launch a series of partnerships with local businesses to offer incentives like free restaurant meals and, perhaps, even cruises. But Health Department spokesman Mark Bryant said the Alabama Department of Public Health informed local health officials that such incentives would not be legal.
State health officials did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation.
The department is offering $250 gift cards to winners of a TikTok contest the agency is sponsoring for videos promoting vaccinations. But there are no incentives for people getting the shots.
Cooksey told FOX10 News that the Stimpson administration has worked hard to encourage vaccinations.
“Over the last several months, we have worked with local health providers and public officials to ensure every Mobilian has access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” she stated. ‘Through our partnership with USA Health, we have provided vaccinations at the Mobile Civic Center and at remote sites in the community and plan to continue doing so. We are also working with the Mobile County Commission and the Mobile County Health Department to stress the importance of getting vaccinated.”