Tennessee isn't offering incentives for COVID shots - but paid nearly $500,000 to vaccinate cows

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Tennessee isn't offering incentives for COVID shots - but paid nearly $500,000 to vaccinate cows
Tennessee paid farmers nearly $500,000 to vaccinate their cows over the past two years. Artur Widak/Getty Images
  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he doesn't plan to offer monetary incentives for the COVID vaccine.
  • The state paid nearly $500,000 to cattle farmers to get their herds vaccinated over the last two years, the AP reported.
  • Tennessee farmers can earn up to $1,500 per cow that gets vaccinated against respiratory diseases.

Tennessee does not offer residents incentives to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but it did pay cattle farmers nearly $500,000 to vaccinate their cows against respiratory diseases, according to documents reviewed by the Associated Press.

Tennessee is the 9th least-vaccinated state in the country, based on a list maintained by The New York Times. As of Monday, 39% of Tennesseans had been fully vaccinated against COVID, while 45% had received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other states, like Colorado, have been offering incentives such as a $1 million sweepstakes for people who get vaccinated. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, spoke to reporters at the Tennessee Cattlemen's Association on Friday and said he does not plan to offer incentives like money to residents who get the vaccine, WBIR reported.

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Lee breeds cattle at Triple L Ranch. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Herd Health program, which began in 2019, offers farmers like him up to $1,500 to vaccinate their cattle herds. Farmers can earn $15 for each cow they get vaccinated, according to the TDA website.

Documents reviewed by the AP show the state spent $492,561 on the program over the past two years. When asked by the AP, a spokesperson for Lee would not answer whether his family had received any money from the Herd Health program.

"Tennesseans have every incentive to get the Covid-19 vaccine - it's free and available in every corner of the state with virtually no wait," spokesperson Casey Black wrote in an email to the AP. "While a veterinarian can weigh in on safely raising cattle for consumption, the state will continue to provide human Tennesseans with Covid-19 vaccine information and access."

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Lee's administration has recently faced criticism for firing Tennessee's vaccination chief, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, in early July over her department's effort to reach unvaccinated teenagers in the state.

"It was my job to provide evidence-based education and vaccine access so that Tennesseans could protect themselves against COVID-19," Fiscus said in a statement to The Tennessean. "I have now been terminated for doing exactly that."

Lee, who is vaccinated against COVID-19, defended Fiscus's firing at a news conference last month where he expressed concern over vaccines being "marketed" to children. He said that he trusted the Tennessee Department of Health to make "decisions consistent with the vision," and added that personnel decisions do not come from his office.

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