Ban on bribes halts Tarrant County plan to pay people to get COVID-19 shot

With COVID-19 vaccination rates slowing down, a Tarrant County leader is looking for ways to convince more people to get the shot.

Judge Glen Whitley thought offering people $50 dollars might get them to show up, but a federal ban on bribes stands in the way.

Paying people to get the vaccine is being talked about because Tarrant County has tens of thousands of vaccine doses available and few takers. The lines to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Tarrant County are all but gone.

"I can tell you at our sites we would open up to long lines of 350-400 people in the first hour at each site to now doing 400 people a day at our sites," said Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja. "So there is a sharp decline."

Ideas to jump start vaccinations included offering people cash. Locally, it is not a legal option, Whitley says the National Association of Counties is exploring an appeal at the federal level.

"Hopefully they may be able to get the federal government to reverse, relax or do whatever that will allow us to be able to if we chose to pay and incentive," Whitley said. "If we can move into that arena, I would want to pay the folks who have already gotten their vaccine as well. I don’t want it to be just some."

Whitley’s theory involves paying $50 to each person who receives a full COVID-19 dosage as well, in fairness, making the payments retroactive to residents who have already received shots.

A rough estimate on the price tag for such a plan is $2.1 million. It’s money Judge Whitley believes would be well spent for two reasons.

"That would mean we’d give them money and they would be immediately injecting that back into our economy," he said. "So I think it has a dual purpose that would not only hopefully get us closer to herd immunity but help those small businesses that were hurt by COVID."

For now, the cash incentive idea is just that: an idea. It doesn't change reality.

"The first dose interest has really just cratered in the community, and we need to make sure that we meet people where they are," Taneja said. "But they need to understand this is the best time to get vaccinated."

The appeal for the possibility of cash payments is being made with the U.S. Treasury Department.

Meantime, all Tarrant County vaccine sites currently do not require an appointment. You can simply walk in to receive a shot.