BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Twenty-one percent of all hospital patients in the Rio Grande Valley are now COVID-19 patients. Cameron County began an incentive program for teens 12 to 18 to get vaccinated in an effort to increase the number of people in the area who are vaccinated.

The program will give a $50 gift card to teens between the ages of 12 and 18 who get their first COVID vaccine shot between August 10 and September 30.

Cameron County Precinct 3 Commissioner David Garza put it plainly. “Get paid to get vaccinated.”

Fewer than one-third of teens age 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated in Texas. Officials said that 18,000 teenagers have not received a single dose of any COVID-19 vaccine in Cameron County.

In an effort to increase the vaccination rate amongst the least vaccinated demographic, county officials started the rewards program “in hopes that we can get at least 10,000 kids that are not vaccinated, that will be going to school, vaccinated.”

There are a few requirements that must be met before the teen can get the vaccination reward.

  • The teenager must be enrolled in a school in Cameron County
  • They must have a valid student ID for their campus
  • A parent or guardian must be present to receive the reward.
  • The teen must be getting their first dose of the vaccine between August 10 and September 30

“This is only to encourage folks that need their first dose, and most likely will get their second dose, to get them into vaccination sites,” said Garza.

The gift card won’t be rewarded immediately following the vaccine. Students must wait 48 hours for their vaccine information to get uploaded to the statewide system.

Once the two business days are over, parents or legal guardians must bring students with their student ID to one of four Cameron County health clinics.

Those clinics are:

  • Harlingen Public Health Center Address: 711 N “L” St. Harlingen TX, 78550
  • Mary P. Lucio Health Center Address: 1204 Jose Colunga Jr. Dr. Brownsville TX, 78521
  • San Benito Public Health Center Address: 1390 W. Expressway 83 Harlingen, TX 78550
  • Father Joseph O’Brien Health Clinic Address: 142 Champion Drive Port Isabel TX, 78578

Cameron County health administrator Esmerelda Guajardo said this is a last-ditch effort to avoid overwhelming the hospitals.

“If we can’t get you in based on the concern for your health or your child’s health, then we don’t know what else to do,” she said.

Dr. James Castillo, the Cameron County health authority said that the fuller hospitals get, the more likely people are to die. Including non-COVID patients.

“During previous surges, all causes of death went up,” Castillo said. “So, if you had a heart attack in the middle of the hospitals being overwhelmed, your chances of dying were higher.”

Cameron County officials said the hospitals are almost at maximum capacity.

The Texas Department of State Health Services hospitalization database shows that over 20% of patients in Rio Grande Valley hospitals are COVID-19 patients.

Courtesy: Cameron County