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As Delta Variant Spreads, Gov. Mike Parson Says Missouri May Consider COVID Vaccine Incentives

 Gov. Mike Parson speaks to reporters on July 7, 2021, at Koller Enterprises near Fenton. Parson signed legislation shielding companies from COVID-19-related lawsuits.
Jason Rosenbaum
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Mike Parson speaks to reporters on July 7, 2021, at Koller Enterprises near Fenton. Parson signed legislation shielding companies from COVID-19-related lawsuits.

Parson made the comments after signing legislation into law shielding companies from COVID-19 related lawsuits, except for “recklessness or willful misconduct.”

With a more contagious strain of COVID-19 spreading throughout Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday there could be an announcement as soon as next week about incentives to get people vaccinated.

But Parson said he’s not a huge fan of offering people financial inducements to get a shot, which studies show has proven to be the most effective way to keep people out of the hospital and alive.

Over the past few weeks, cases of COVID-19 have been steadily going up — especially in southwest Missouri. Officials at Springfield hospitals have been publicly begging people to get vaccinated as their facilities become overwhelmed with people that have not gotten the COVID-19 shot.

About 55.4% of the state’s adult population has had at least one COVID-19 shot. But that percentage is significantly lower in the state’s rural counties.

Speaking to reporters at a COVID liability bill signing near Fenton on Wednesday, Parson said that his administration could announce an incentive program “in a week or so.” Though he said he’s “not a big fan” of that idea he’s willing to consider it “as long as we can gauge if it can work or not.”

“I think you’ve got to be extremely careful when you’re rewarding someone or giving them an incentive to do something they should be doing anyhow for public health,” Parson said. “And then you’ve got half the population that went out and done that. So what do you do with those people? So I think you have to have a combination of how you’re going to do that.”

The St. Louis County Council recently approved offering gift cards as an incentive to get vaccinated. Some states, like Illinois, Ohio and California, are holding lotteries with cash prizes.

“I’m not interested in doing a million dollar lottery,” Parson said. “If we can do something on maybe a smaller scale, like $5,000 or $10,000? OK, we’re talking about those things right now. But how do you really encourage people to get a vaccine? And I don’t know if that’s a million dollar winner or not.”

Parson and his wife Teresa both contracted COVID-19 and later were vaccinated. When asked why some people are hesitant or opposed to getting the shot, Parson pointed to, among other things, the fact that the vaccine has only been available for a relatively short amount of time.

“I’m going to tell you just from personal experience,” said Parson, who is from Polk County. “When some of those people in your community start ending up in a hospital, people start unfortunately paying a little bit more attention. Or if somebody gets sick and maybe not in a hospital. It’s unfortunate that it's a little bit of a game changer for some people, but it is.”

COVID-19 liability legislation

Parson was in the St. Louis area to sign legislation shielding businesses from being sued for COVID-19-related reasons.

The bill states that no one can sue a business unless they showed “recklessness or willful misconduct” and the exposure injured a plaintiff. It was one of Parson's top legislative priorities of the 2021 session — and a priority for the state’s business community.

“Government and businesses had to decide how to navigate the health issues facing their constituents and employees, keeping them as safe as possible while making sure our economy was not permanently crippled,” said Al Koller, CEO and president of plastic company Koller Enterprises. “This bill is an important recognition of companies and health care personnel who went beyond their normal routine to fight an unknown enemy and keep our citizens and economy safe and secure.”

During debate in May, some Democrats slammed the bill for shielding nursing homes and long term care facilities that didn’t take enough precautions to prevent people from getting COVID-19. Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Platte County, said it could prompt people to pull their loved ones out of those facilities.

“What bills like this will do is it threatens the longevity of our long term care facilities,” Aune said. “Because people are not going to want to take the risk of leaving their loved ones in a place where there’s no recourse if something awful happens to them.”

Parson said that Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer’s bill “is not going to give you a free pass if you’re doing something wrong.”

“If you’re not doing your job, you’re still going to be responsible for that,” Parson said.

The bill goes into effect Aug. 28.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

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