When Scott County Commission meets in regular session later this month, commissioners will consider a proposal by County Mayor Jeff Tibbals to offer a $100 incentive to anyone who receives the coronavirus vaccination. It promises to be a close vote, especially after the measure narrowly cleared committee by a 3-2 vote.
The proposal has already proven controversial, with critics quick to lash out at the idea of using taxpayer dollars to provide stipends to those who receive a vaccine that has, unfortunately, become a political flashpoint.
But the proposal is solid, and could prove to be life-saving. Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be much reason not to support it, even if you don’t intend to take the vaccine yourself.
For starters, the proposal does not represent a mandate. Every citizen is still free to decide for themselves whether to receive the vaccination. County government would simply be encouraging local residents to take the vaccine by offering a cash incentive for doing so.
Tibbals has acknowledged that he doesn’t expect many people to take advantage of the cash offer to receive the vaccine, and he’s probably right. On this subject, Americans are too divided.
That’s unfortunate, because there’s absolutely no proof that the vaccine is dangerous — but there’s a mountain of evidence that it works. Serious side effects associated with the vaccine have proven to be extremely rare. And while there are a growing number of so-called “breakthrough cases” — that is, positive cases of covid among people who have been vaccinated — very few have caused serious illness and many have caused no symptoms at all.
In Tennessee, as in much of the rest of the country, the ages of people being hospitalized with coronavirus or dying from coronavirus are shifting younger. This isn’t because the covid variants currently circulating among us are any more deadly among younger Americans. Rather, it’s because a large majority of the elderly who are most at risk from covid have gotten vaccinated, while younger adults are more likely to not be vaccinated.
In other words, the fact that younger Americans are now making up larger percentages of those who are becoming critically ill or dying from covid is yet more proof that the vaccination works. Sadly, it’s also a reminder that Americans will die, needlessly, because we’ve become too mired in our political beliefs and vaccine fears to carefully research our options.
In addition, the fewer people who are vaccinated against covid, the more freely covid can circulate within the community and within our society as a whole. And the more freely covid can circulate, the more likely it is to mutate, with each of those mutations increasing the risk that we might eventually see covid mutate into a virus capable of beating our vaccinations. That would be a devastating development.
Given these facts, why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to encourage people to be vaccinated? The offer of $100 cash might not move the needle for most people who haven’t yet been vaccinated. But it might for a few. And every person who is vaccinated is a potential life saved. Every person who is vaccinated also lowers the risk that we’re going to accidentally introduce covid to someone who is elderly or otherwise at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus.
Understandably, the idea of the government offering a cash incentive to people to take a voluntary virus feels weird. It feels a little dirty, even. Fifth District Commissioner Paul Strunk, who voted in favor of the proposal in committee, might have said it best: “I think it’s sad that we have to incentivize someone to make a judgment call that protects themselves and their family…”
But the thing about the proposal that’s on the table is that it costs the taxpayers of Scott County absolutely nothing to offer it. The money that will be used to fund the incentive is taxpayer dollars, to be sure, but these taxpayer dollars have been provided by the federal government with a lot of limitations on how they can be spent. Scott County cannot spend these funds on schools, or on roads, or on most other popular wish-list items.
In other words, this proposal won’t cost the taxpayers of Scott County a single dime extra, and it won’t take money away from any other worthwhile project. The money would be used to encourage people to take a vaccine that 40% of Scott Countians have already taken with absolutely no ill effects reported amongst any of them.
To be clear, there hasn’t been a Scott Countian who has died of coronavirus in almost two months. But we all know this to be true: More deaths will inevitably follow. It’s been too easy to characterize covid-related deaths as something that happens only to people who are seriously ill to start with, but most of us know at least one family who is mourning the loss of someone who would still be with us if not for covid. That’s perhaps no more true than with the Coalfield football team, just down the road. They’ll open the 2021 season in a couple of weeks without two coaches who have been mainstays in that community for the better part of two decades, brothers Keith and Jared Henry of Scott County. Both died of covid after falling ill last December. Neither was seriously ill to start with. Both were in the prime of life. Sadly, both were infected before the covid vaccination was made available.
Every step we can take to help prevent more of these completely unnecessary deaths is a step in the right direction … and a step back towards normalcy. All of us are sick of hearing about covid, and understandably so. Most of us are tired of hearing about government mandates and being told what to do — again, understandably so. But encouraging people to voluntarily take the vaccination to protect themselves, their families and everyone else they come into contact with isn’t a mandate, and it’s not telling anyone what to do. To vote against measures that could potentially save lives and usher us back to normalcy more quickly would be unfortunate.
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