Austin Public Health offers $50 gift cards for COVID vaccinations and boosters

Tuesday, March 21, 2023 by Olivia Aldridge, KUT

Anyone who gets a Covid-19 vaccine or booster shot at an Austin Public Health vaccination event will be eligible to receive a $50 Visa gift card, the agency said Monday.

APH said it hopes the incentive will be helpful to people who would have to take unpaid time off from work to get vaccinated.

The agency also noted that the number of people seeking vaccines has stagnated. As of March 1, it said, only 38 percent of Austin-Travis County residents had received a booster shot. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of Black residents had not received any Covid-19 vaccine, compared to around 40 percent of Hispanic residents and 37 percent of white residents. Vaccination rates are lowest among young children between 6 months and 4 years old, with just 10 percent of them having received a Covid-19 vaccine.

According to APH, there’s good reason to get any outstanding shots as soon as possible. The Biden administration announced plans earlier this year to let the federal declaration of a public health emergency for Covid-19 expire on May 11.

Access to free vaccines is not directly tied to the public health emergency declaration, but to the federal government’s purchase of vaccines. Absent additional funding from Congress to replenish the federal stockpile of vaccines, the administration has said it anticipates transitioning them to the commercial marketplace soon. Once that happens, people with private insurance and Medicare will likely continue to receive vaccines for free. However, Medicaid recipients may have to pay some portion of the cost of vaccinations themselves after a few months, and uninsured people may have to pay up front.

While no official date for the transition has been announced, APH is not taking anything for granted after the public health emergency ends, said Dr. Desmar Walkes, medical director and health authority for Austin/Travis County.

“There’s a lot of conversation about when things will ultimately be over for good,” Walkes said. “We know that we’re going to have a supply of vaccine available, and those vaccine providers that are out in the community will still be able to give that vaccine for free. But the issue will come with whether there will be an administration fee charged by certain people and not others. Those things are yet to be worked out.”

In addition to vaccines, APH also expects that free test kits will no longer be available through most people’s insurance after May 11. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has indicated that once the federal stockpile of the Covid-19 treatment Paxlovid has been depleted, likely in mid-2023, the drug will transition to the private marketplace, potentially causing an increase in the price.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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This article First appeared in austinmonitor

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