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The Sun Proposal: Get more Allegany County residents vaccinated ASAP using federal dollars

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By Andrew Harris

At least once a week, especially in the last few months, an email comes in the front door:

Do something! If the county leadership won’t act, who will ?

The first response is always something like this: The county is doing what it can with the resources available, don’t forget we are one of the poorest counties in the state. If you have any ideas on what the county could do specifically to improve the response to the pandemic, lets discuss.

It wasn’t until recently that a reasonable idea emerged, perhaps with all the budget season data fresh in mind. The 2022 county budget is highlighted with property tax cuts, sales tax gluts, and a massive investment in infrastructure.

The idea starts with this: What could spending 1% of the $9 million dollars from the American Rescue Act do for our vaccination rate? Half of that money is already in the bank, and the other half soon to follow.

What could Allegany County do tomorrow using 1% of the that American Rescue Act Fund money to best protect residents and serve taxpayers? $100,000 doesn’t go as far as it used to, but it could accomplish the following:

One-percent of that fund could get as many as 5000 additional Allegany County residents vaccinated, and mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the county. That money will help spare the healthcare system further exasperation, prevent additional deaths, and immediately prepare for the next wave/variant of the pandemic.

Based on computer modeling, the latest strain of Covid-19, aka Omicron, is going to impact the majority of the United States in early 2022. This impact will most severely infect the non-vaccinated, about half of Allegany County, in the months of January and February.

The University of Texas has been focused on how the Omicron wave will play out in the United States. This modeling lays out multiple scenarios of how the variant will impact the population, but all models indicate that Allegany County has less than a month to prepare. For you data lovers, this link provides lots of insight:

https://covid-19.tacc.utexas.edu/media/filer_public/20/b0/20b055db-78da-41e6-a1e4-d3afaad6167b/omicron_emergence_-us_scenarios-_ut.pdf

It’s the carrot, not the stick. Allegany County’s vaccination rate can be directly correlated to the county poverty level. Allegany County’s population is not going to tolerate a vaccine mandate. A large majority of the unvaccinated portion of this county live below the poverty line and rely on Medicaid to pay for healthcare. That burden of cost falls on the property tax payer in Allegany County and the carrot being proposed is funded by the federal government. Money has to be part of the solution, give up to 5000 unvaccinated residents of this county $200 to be fully vaccinated.

Outrageous you say? Liberal quackery ? Wasteful spending?

Give the incentive as a gift card, putting that investment back into the economy, and even make some sales tax off the deal. For every penny spent to incentivize, a portion will come back to the taxpayer, both directly and indirectly.

For every county resident that decides to get vaccinated we will alleviate the pressure on doctors, nurses, hospitals, medical transport, schools, employers, and ultimately families. An incentive program isn’t a mandate or a heavy hand by government. It is a proactive measure to avoid what could be the worst days of this pandemic in Allegany County.

Residents continue demand a local response to our escalating infection rate and label as the “least vaccinated county in NYS.” A proactive response is good government and will at the very least, signal to the population and business community that Allegany County is not resting on its laurels.

This idea has been informally discussed between county leaders, the health department, and local hospital officials for the better part of December. A troubling part of the proposal is that nobody wants to comment on it, but many want to complain off the record. From legislators, to public health professionals, to Jones Memorial Hospital, the hesitancy to comment is alarming.

The only official or agency who provided a public statement is the Allegany County Department of Health and it wasn’t encouraging in respect to the idea of incentivizing vaccination:

“We like the thought and have discussed incentives in the past.  We do not want to incentivize at this point for people to get their vaccines. We agree that it certainly would increase our numbers, but sends the wrong message overall.”

So what is the wrong message ? The Department of Health responded to that question:

” The wrong message from the county would be to pay residents to get vaccinated.  Especially those that have held out this long. How much is enough money to get them to get vaccinated? What about those who are already vaccinated, do they get paid? What will county residents expect payment for down the road in other public health emergencies? We don’t disagree that money will get people to the vaccination sites, but it is not our position to pay individuals to do the right thing.”

We then asked the question of private sector incentives, employers who offer financial incentives to get vaccinated. Should that be encouraged as a prudent policy? The response to that question by the county health department was clear:

“Businesses in Allegany County would benefit from increasing productivity by decreasing illness and death from COVID-19 by offering an incentive to their employees to get vaccinated.  Many businesses in Allegany County offer their employees incentives for many health promotion activities like attending a presentation or health fair on a health topic (s),  joining a gym/exercising/walking, taking a disease/self-management class, getting a physical every year, getting a flu shot, eating healthy, etc. Businesses would be sending the right message to their employees by offering an incentive to their employees to get vaccinated.

A final statement by the Allegany County Department of Health was expected, “We too would like to increase our numbers of vaccinated county residents.” Based on the comments above, using incentives as a tool to increase vaccination rates is going to be up to the private sector.

Clearly we’ve come to a point of reckoning on the subject of getting Allegany County vaccinated. The approach of education and encouraging residents to get vaccinated has failed, by all measures. That failure may well soon be realized if the virus continues to populate the unvaccinated members of our community.

As the county prepares for yet another wave of coronavirus, the only meaningfully tool left to increase vaccination rates is to offer a monetary incentive. Just today Governor Hochul announced an additional $65 million dollars to support counties in the effort to combat the incoming surge of coronavirus.

Clearly the county has the means, but does it have the will ?

Do you have an idea how to increase the county vaccination rate? Or other ideas that will help mitigate the spread of the virus and its consequences? Please submit to [email protected] or join a respectful conversation on our Facebook page.

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