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Kitsap County offers $500 incentive for its employees who get the COVID-19 vaccine

Kitsap County said the idea aims to not only keep employees safe, but also lowers the costs of protecting them. But not everyone is on board.

KITSAP COUNTY, Wash. — Kitsap County is offering its employees through the end of the year a one-time payment of $500 for being vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Board of Commissioners unanimously passed the incentive on Monday.

Commissioner Robert Gelder said he hopes the incentive will help convince people to get vaccinated against the virus, but that’s not the only reason.

“We went self-funded for medical care in 2013, which basically means the county, in order to save taxpayers money, and the budget, we took on the risk of medical claims,” said Gelder.

Since the arrival of the delta variant, the county has seen a rise in COVID-19-related claims, with one coming in at $1.2 million.

“If you have enough of those, then it really adds up," said Gelder. "It challenges and stresses the availability of that medical fund."

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Gelder said the idea is that if more county employees are vaccinated, that could help cut down on some of those claims.

So far, around 65% of Kitsap County's 1,150 employees are vaccinated.

Some residents of the county are against the idea and feel as if the vaccine is still being forced on the county's employees.

“It’s bribery,” said Cori Atwood, a resident of Kitsap County. “I think it is a rotten idea, I think that is a question for the individual to answer for themselves, and I don’t think it should be put out there for us to have to get or not get based on someone else’s opinion.”

“I’d be looking for a new job," said Valencia, another resident of Kitsap County. "That’s it. It’s the end of the line right there."

Gelder said he’s heard those criticisms but wanted to make it clear that no one is being forced to do anything.

“It is an incentive, it is not a mandate,” said Gelder. “So individuals and employees still have every ability to exercise their own choice, and choose not to get vaccinated, and not receive the incentive.”

Gelder also said that Kitsap County is following the science, which shows that people who are vaccinated have better outcomes even if they get infected by the virus. People who are vaccinated are also less likely to be hospitalized.

While Kitsap County hasn't issued a vaccine mandate for its employees yet, officials are still waiting for further guidance from OSHA and the federal government on COVID-19 vaccines in the workplace.   

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