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Jan. 29, 2022

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Clark County Board of Health mulls vaccine incentives

Most members back efforts to encourage inoculations

By , Columbian staff writer

As COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Clark County and the United States begins to dwindle, most of the Clark County Board of Health is supportive of any incentives offered locally to help encourage vaccination.

At Wednesday’s Clark County Board of Health meeting, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said the county is breaking down barriers to vaccination to help people who can’t easily access vaccine.

The Tower Mall site in Vancouver has expanded its Tuesday hours into the evening, and appointments are no longer necessary at many vaccination locations in the county.

Clark County Public Health has also taken pods to Woodland and the Fruit Valley area in Vancouver to target areas where people have more barriers to vaccination.

But Melnick said the county also needs to reach a pocket of the population who are on board with vaccination but aren’t particularly eager for an injection.

“The incentive for me is knowing I’m not going to die from COVID-19, which I think is a pretty good incentive,” Melnick said. “But there’s a large population, who’s driving transmission right now, young adults, who may not have the same perspective in terms of the eagerness to get the vaccine. … I think we need to be creative. In that young adult population, incentives can work.”

Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz first brought up the idea of incentives at the meeting, mentioning that she thinks there could be opportunities for partnerships in the community with local businesses.

Lentz mentioned one local initiative, which is aiming for workplaces to have 80 percent of their staff vaccinated by Aug. 15.

“It’s better for business if you know your employees aren’t going to get sick or infect others,” Lentz said. “That’s a good thing.”

As The Columbian reported in late April, a number of businesses have offered vaccination incentives for their employees and some for customers.

During the meeting, Melnick mentioned bars offering free alcohol to those who have gotten a shot. A couple states in the Northeast have partnered with breweries to offer a free beer to those who are vaccinated.

As a health official, Melnick didn’t explicitly endorse an alcoholic incentive, but said he likes the ingenuity.

Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien was the one open dissenter Wednesday, saying she is “not excited” about businesses offering incentives.

“I think we have to be very cautious with businesses asking their employees to get vaccinations or even giving them incentives, because there may be employees who depend on a job who might otherwise not want to get a vaccine,” Quiring O’Brien said. “While it sounds voluntary, it could actually turn into something that a person would lose their job if they don’t get a vaccine, and I think that is a very negative thing for our businesses to be doing.”

Lentz said she doesn’t foresee people being fired in Clark County for not getting vaccinated.

“It’s a bit of a jump to say somebody would lose a job if they didn’t get a vaccine,” Lentz said. “These programs are about encouragement and incentives. I would offer additional caution that individuals can have their own perspectives, but for a business to encourage vaccination in order to keep our community safe, I think that’s a good thing.”

Columbian staff writer