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St. Louis County residents who complete vaccination process after Saturday will get $150 in groceries and gas

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St. Louis County residents ages 12 and older qualify for the incentives. Page says he believes they've helped and is going to try them in St. Louis County.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY — A long-awaited gift card incentive program begins Saturday for any St. Louis County resident who gets fully vaccinated against COVID-19, county officials are expected to announce Wednesday.

Residents who begin their vaccination process Saturday or after will get a $100 gift card for groceries and a $50 gift card for gas mailed to their homes once they have gotten both doses of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the gift cards will complement other efforts to boost vaccination rates and overcome vaccine hesitancy, especially among Black residents in the county.

“We believe that incentives are a part of that process, that incentives to be vaccinated will help folks make a good decision,” Page said. “We’ve seen incentives available in other places in the country, and we believe they’ve helped, and we are going to try them here in St. Louis County.”

The cards will only be offered through St. Louis County Department of Health facilities or vaccination clinics supported by the health department. Only St. Louis County residents ages 12 and older qualify.

Residents will be able to enroll for the gift cards when they get vaccinated, and cards will be sent via certified mail to the address provided.

To find a list of county-run clinics, go to Those without a stable address can call 314-615-6472.

When the more infectious delta variant began gaining a foothold in Missouri at the start of summer, many rushed to get vaccinated, but the pace has since slowed to some of the lowest levels seen since the vaccines have become widely available.

A weekly average of 3,350 county residents were getting the shots each day on June 9, but the latest data from Sept. 14 shows the average has since dropped to 1,153, where it has hovered for the past few weeks, according to the health department.

About 58% of county residents have initiated vaccination, which is the highest percentage in the state, state data shows. Across Missouri, 53% of people have initiated vaccination.

“We are glad to see it higher than the state average, but it’s not high enough,” Page said. “We know we need to do better. The delta variant is still very present in our community, and vaccination is the path forward out of this pandemic.”

The latest county health department data also shows significant disparities exist in vaccination rates, with rates among Black residents 13% lower than that of white residents.

The St. Louis County Council approved the gift card incentives on June 29. The legislation was proposed by Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, D-4th District, to help decrease disparities in vaccination rates while also providing assistance for food and necessary household items.

In a 5-2 vote, the council approved using $875,000 of its $193 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover the cost of the gift cards.

Councilmen Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, and Mark Harder, R-7th District, voted against Webb’s gift card proposal because they opposed using funds as an incentive.

“I view that as another word for coercion,” Trakas said at the time. “I do not think it is fair to entice people to perhaps change their mind or do something they wouldn’t otherwise be willing to do.”

The program has taken nearly three months to roll out, Page said, because officials had to follow government purchasing rules and determine how to best distribute the cards.

The gift cards will be distributed to about 5,000 county residents on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The city of St. Louis — where 53% of the population has initiated vaccination — also has a gift card incentive program it began rolling out a few weeks ago for city residents who get vaccinated. The Board of Aldermen on Aug. 16 approved allocating $1.25 million for the program.

A health department spokesman, Harold Bailey, told the Post-Dispatch last week that 620 gift cards were purchased since then through an informal process “to meet the urgency of the moment” and so far 228 have been issued at vaccination clinics.

Bailey said the city has just completed seeking requests from companies seeking to provide cards for a more comprehensive program and that further steps will be announced when finalized.

Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting city health director, has been skeptical of the gift cards. Echols told the aldermanic Health and Human Services Committee last week that “there’s still a large segment of our population that has a deeper level of distrust” in the health system built up over many years that can’t be addressed by an incentive.

“It really requires persistent and genuine engagement over a long period of time,” he said.

Efforts by city and county health officials to boost rates include partnering with trusted churches, businesses and community groups to host vaccine clinics and answer questions about vaccine safety.

Webb and St. Louis County Council Chair Rita Heard Days, who represent north St. Louis County districts, have offered a proposal to use $50 million in federal relief funds to boost health services in North County, including the construction of two health centers, the addition of two mobile vaccination units and a door-to-door education campaign led by the councilwomen and other Black officials.

About four out of every five people hospitalized in St. Louis area hospitals are unvaccinated, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the St. Louis area continue a slow decline, according to Tuesday’s report by the task force.

The seven-day average has dropped from a summer high of 559 on Aug. 21 to 447 on Tuesday. Models, for the first time in months, projected a continued downward trend.

Deaths, however, have remained steady. For more than a month, the average number of people dying from COVID-19 each day in St. Louis-area hospitals has hovered around nine.

The COVID-19 death toll statewide continues to climb, as state officials take several weeks to analyze death certificate data. The total has already reached 897 in the five weeks that span August — more than triple the numbers seen this past spring, according to data tabulated by the Post-Dispatch.

The five weeks prior to Aug. 1 saw 616 deaths, and the five weeks prior to that saw just 228.

“Our best protection against future surges is vaccination,” said BJC HealthCare’s Dr. Clay Dunagan, who presented the task force report.

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