Lexington City Council considering employee bonuses to increase vaccinations

Lexington City Hall. (Photo by Ian Dardani)

By Ian Dardani 

Lexington City Council is considering bonuses to encourage more city employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

City council approved City Manager James M. Halasz’ Declaration of a Local Emergency due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in the area. Lexington had a moderately low number of cases in late August. But that more than doubled by late September, with a weekly average of seven new cases per day, according to the Virginia Department of Health. 

Lexington joins other cities looking for ways to increase vaccination rates. New York City created a “Benjamins for shots” incentive in late July, giving $100 to those receiving their first shot. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that over 250,000 New Yorkers have received the vaccine since the incentives were offered.  

Given the Lexington’s low vaccination rate, Mayor Frank W. Friedman believes an incentive for those who have not been vaccinated could be beneficial. Local officials didn’t know the actual level of vaccinations, but the New York Times reported that 44 percent of the county’s population got the shots.   

“I think that folks should take advantage of the vaccine unless there are mitigating circumstances with their health because in general, it’s a benefit to all of the community,” said Friedman. 

Friedman told the council about various organizations using financial incentives.  

“I thought it was an interesting concept of a carrot instead of a stick,” said Friedman. “I feel that people being healthy and encouraging our staff to be healthy is a very positive idea.” 

City Council Member Marilyn Alexander says she thinks Friedman shared the idea hoping that Halasz’ would come back with an actual proposal at tonight’s council meeting. However not all council members believe in offering incentives. 

“The goal is to get more people vaccinated,” said Alexander. “But I’m not sure that’s the best way of doing it.” 

Other city staff workers seem even more hesitant. When asked if any sort of financial incentive would prompt him to get vaccinated, one Lexington construction worker, who requested to stay anonymous said: “No. No sort of money from the government could convince me to get it. Have you seen the medical records? The shot doesn’t work.”