COVID-19 Cashes Out: Organizations Across Texas Promoting Vaccine Incentives


Lana Giles, Staff Writer

According to the New York Times, 60% of residents in Travis County are fully vaccinated. In December 2020, the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. were distributed, which marked the beginning of a transition from strict stay-at-home orders and mask mandates into reopening public spaces and enabling less strict safety precautions, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). In order to promote vaccination, many states and local governments have developed incentives to get vaccinated.

With the new awareness that has been given to vaccines, it brings up questions of what is in a vaccine, according to Dr. Theodore Sievers, a pharmacist with the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center’s kidney transplant program.

“There’s basically two different varieties of the vaccine,” Siever said.“One uses the old standard technology that’s pretty much utilized for almost all vaccines. It uses the old technology of putting the antigens you’re interested in context with an adenovirus and presenting that to the immune system, and it provides a pretty robust response. The newer ones rely on messenger RNA, which is a brand new methodology.” 

Many people have doubts about getting the vaccine, especially the transplant patients he has been seeing, according to Sievers. He understands their doubt regarding the vaccine, although he  continues to support getting vaccinated. 

“There’s all kinds of reasons why someone would conceivably not want to get vaccinated,” Sievers said. “Unless, there’s some compelling reason. Yes, I would say get vaccinated.”

On a local scale, an organization called VaxTogetherAustin works to provide vaccines for those in need. Raji Parameswaran, a member on the board, says the group has been working to provide vaccines for those who are not able to themselves.

“Nobody knew how to get the vaccines,” Parameswaran said, “and so these vaccine angels sprouted out all over the country with people who would just help others essentially log on and get appointments.”

At Texas A&M University (TAMU), the Voluntary Vaccine Incentive Program has been set into motion. Dr. Martha Dannenbaum, the director of student health services at TAMU, explained that the program will give five students an award worth $14,500 to go towards education-related expenses, and staff will be eligible to win football packs, parking credit, event tickets, or a $500 gift card.

“The incentive program is drawings for tuition, students, and other TAMU related items, faculty and staff, such as a football weekend experience, parking permit for a year, and tickets for OPAS or Brazos Valley Symphony shows or concerts,” Dannenbaum said.

With incentives, the main idea is increasing the amount of vaccinated people. Organizations throughout the country have begun programs in order to promote vaccination against COVID-19, according to the Texas Tribune.

“Everyone’s circumstance is a little bit different,” Sievers said. “But in general, if you start paying people to do something, they typically start doing it.” 

With large scale incentives like at TAMU, the goal is to continue to push out factual information and encourage them to consider getting vaccinated, according to Dannenbaum. 

“We have sponsored vaccine clinics at several sites across campus and provided ‘mass vaccination’ so that we could vaccinate large numbers of people over a short period of time,” Dannenbaum said. “We gave over 20,000 vaccines during the eight week vaccination clinic SHS sponsored.” 

In Austin, one of the major events of the year is Austin City Limits (ACL). VaxTogetherAustin is working with ACL promoters, such as C3 Presents, an event production company, to distribute vaccinations. 

You either have to be fully vaccinated, or you have to have a negative COVID test,” Parameswaran said, “so they figured, ‘Hey, why don’t we just incentivize people?’” 

VaxTogetherAustin, ACL, Q2 Stadium (home of Austin FC), and Walgreens provided free ACL Music Festival Weekend two single-day general admission tickets to the first 1,000 people who pre-register edand got vaccinated on Sept. 10 at Q2 Stadium, according to VaxTogetherAustin. 

“Incentives seem to be working at the moment,” Parameswaran said. “But there are a lot of people who are on the edge, they kind of want to get it, but if you tempt them with an ACL wristband that might just tip them over. And, you know, if we can just tip over all of those people who are on the fence, one by one, that’s what we want.”