Clackamas County Public Health has canceled a series of Covid-19 vaccination clinics at Molalla High School after concerns arose that a planned giveaway of $50 gift cards would induce some teens to get the jab without parental consent.
The clinics were scheduled for Aug. 23 and Sept. 13 (second shots only) and would have followed a series of vaccination events that have been held at the school since June.
Though the events were to be staged at Molalla High School, they would have been open to anyone who wanted the vaccine and offered a $50 Visa gift card as an incentive.
But the incentive became a flashpoint for vaccine skeptics in Molalla, which at 43.6% has among the lowest vaccination rates in Clackamas County.
It also drew the ire of Molalla Mayor Scott Keyser, who in an Aug. 17 Facebook post in which he made clear he was speaking only for himself, called on residents to voice their opposition to the school board.
“I didn’t personally believe that 15- to 18-year-olds would be making a responsible decision in getting the vaccine,” Keyser later explained in a live video. “I thought they would be doing it just to get the gift card. And possibly not going back for a second [shot] if they didn’t get a gift card.”
Keyser reached out to the Molalla River School Board, he said, not to cancel the event, but to nix the gift card incentive for minors unless they were accompanied by their parent or guardian.
Instead, Superintendent Tony Mann scrapped both clinics.
“Not what I was really asking for, but OK,” Keyser commented. “The kids weren’t getting gift cards.”
Under Oregon law, teens as young as 15 can consent to medical procedures, including vaccinations, without their parents’ knowledge.
“I personally believe bribing our kids with candy is not appropriate,” Keyser said. “I can’t control the state law that says kids 15 years and over can make their own medical decisions, but I can say it’s not right that we’re going to pay kids to go get the vaccine.”
Mann also cited the incentive in his reasoning for pulling the plug on the clinics.
“I learned this clinic planned to include financial incentives to teens to be vaccinated without parent consent,” Mann told KGW in an email. “Providing a financial incentive may encourage some adolescents to go around their parent/guardian, which is not aligned with the values of the district.”
The gift cards have been a common incentive at vaccination events organized by Clackamas and other counties throughout the summer — including ones previously held at Molalla High School. (Keyser said he was not aware of the incentive until the run-up to the Aug. 23 event.)
They are available to anyone who receives the shot, not only teens.
In his live video discussing the fallout from the episode, Keyser said he has received praise from other counties and school districts for his stand, along with “hate mail” and even a couple threats.
“I’m OK,” Keyser said. “They don’t threaten me; they’re keyboard warriors.”
Keyser said he has even been blamed for his community’s low vaccination rates.
“That’s not me. It’s the people’s choice,” he said. “I’m not against the vaccine. I’m not for the vaccine. I believe it’s up to each and every one of you on what you choose to do.”
Though Molalla’s vaccination rate lags far behind the Canby ZIP code, where 58.8% of the total population of more than 24,000 have been vaccinated, it has not led to a greater number of confirmed cases of Covid-19.
According to the latest data from the Oregon Health Authority, Canby has actually seen more infections since the pandemic began last March, with a case rate of 75.1 per 1,000, compared to Molalla’s 66.0.
The Canby School District partnered with Canby Fire to offer several vaccine clinics at the Ackerman Center in May. Though gift cards were not handed out at these clinics, participants were entered in raffles for other prizes, such as free tickets to sporting events, not to mention the statewide lottery that was ongoing at the time.
In Molalla, free vaccines are available at the Safeway pharmacy on West Main Street or at Providence Medical Clinic on Center Avenue every Friday from 4 to 7 p.m.
For more information about the vaccine and where you can find it, visit covidvaccine.oregon.gov. If you have questions about taking the vaccine, consult your health care provider.
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