San Antonio City Council approves $100 H-E-B gift cards as incentive to get COVID-19 vaccine

Up to 10,000 cards allocated, recipient must have received first shot after July 31

SAN ANTONIOEDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story said Mayor Ron Nirenberg “abstained” from voting. He “recused” himself from the item, which is now reflected in the text below.

The City of San Antonio will soon be offering $100 H-E-B gift cards to newly COVID-19 vaccinated residents.

City council voted Thursday morning 9-1 to approve $1 million of federal grant dollars to spend on up to 10,000 gift cards that will be given to people who complete their vaccination series at Metro Health vaccination sites. Though he did not give an exact date for when the cards would become available, San Antonio Metropolitan Health Director Claude Jacob said they hope to roll them out by the end of the month.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, whose wife works for H-E-B, recused himself from the item, and District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez voted against it.

The cards will only be given to people who got their first shot after July 31, which Jacob told council members was based on what the “funder” - the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention - would allow.

That means those who were either partially or fully vaccinated before July 31 are not eligible to get the gift cards.

District 7 Councilman Ana Sandoval acknowledged there may be some people who were previously vaccinated who may not be happy about the city using incentives now.

“I do want to, at least, from from this video screen, thank all of those people who voluntarily went out to get vaccinated, who made time in their schedule. You did the absolutely right thing to protect your health, the health of your family, and the health of the community,” Sandoval said. “We are doing this to try to continue to keep the community safe, because once these 10,000 people are are vaccinated, our community will be a lot safer.”

Pelaez was the only one to oppose the measure, citing an article he had read about medical ethics which argued, in part, that paying people to get vaccinated “is more manipulative now than it otherwise would be,” given the economic effects the pandemic has had on Americans.

“I feel like this smacks of of paternalism, and it treats adults like children,” Pelaez told his fellow council members. “I think it also is going to reinforce in their minds that there is a risk - ‘Well, they’re paying me to do this, whereas if it wasn’t risky, they wouldn’t be paying me.’

Asked by KSAT after the meeting about the ethical concerns, Jacob said “at the end of the day, we understand that it is an ethical conundrum, but this is really intended for those who choose to get vaccinated. This is an incentive, an opportunity to at least push them over the fence if they are thinking about it if they’re wondering about the value of getting vaccinated.”

Though the gift cards are not yet available, Jacob said the city does not recommend anyone delay getting vaccinated in hopes of getting one.

“This variant punishes the procrastinators,” Jacob said.

Bexar County’s vaccination statistics are expected to be updated later Thursday evening, but Jacob told reporters he believed the current vaccination rates stood at more than 70% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated and 86.5% have received at least one dose.

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Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.