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Donor floating $500,000 to incentivize COVID vaccines in Butte

Donor floating $500,000 to incentivize COVID vaccines in Butte

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Vaccine campaign signs and stickers

Butte-Silver Bow plans to distribute signs and stickers like the ones shown here as part of its vaccination public awareness campaign.

Up to $500,000 from an anonymous donor could be given out as cash prizes to incentivize Butte-Silver Bow residents to get COVID-19 vaccinations if the county puts the same amount into a public awareness campaign.

County Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher says if commissioners agree to tap $500,000 in federal COVID funds for the awareness campaign Wednesday night, the donor’s money would come through.

“They wanted Butte-Silver Bow to be in the game at half-a-million dollars and then they would match the $500,000 and they wanted to do it in a way that didn’t impact the taxpayers,” Gallagher told The Montana Standard.

The federal money is through the CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion COVID relief and stimulus package enacted by Congress in March 2020, and the county can use money from its allocation on public service announcements and other vaccine awareness efforts.

The county cannot use that money or any government funding for awards or cash prizes, Gallagher said, but money from the donor can be spent on that. In fact, that’s what the donor wants.

Details are still pending, but the donor envisions weekly drawings for “some significant cash awards,” with any Butte-Silver Bow County resident who is fully vaccinated eligible for the drawings, Gallagher said.

Under such a scenario, those who are fully vaccinated could be in the drawings and others would be added as they become so, Gallagher said, adding that steps would be taken to ensure health privacy laws are followed.

Plans for an education and marketing campaign were in the works before the donor’s offer was made. County Health Officer Karen Sullivan is leading that effort with Father Patrick Beretta, Catholic parish priest at St. Patrick and Immaculate Conception churches in Butte.

They planned to leverage $50,000 in CARES Act funding and they were working on newspaper and radio ads, among other things, with more to come, Sullivan said Tuesday.

If commissioners OK Gallagher’s request, she said, it “will really up our game in regard to reaching our community.”

“As we transition from mass vaccination clinics at the Civic Center to outreach clinics throughout the community, we do not want to lose momentum, so the campaign being planned … will be ongoing, while the bigger campaign — if approved by council — is planned,” she said.

Sullivan announced Monday that mobile vaccine clinics will soon be deployed to various employer sites in the county, as well as Montana Technological University and Highlands College, private and public schools, senior centers, substance use disorder centers, churches and religious centers, disability services venues, and state and federal offices.

Even social atmospheres such as breweries, bars and music venues will get a shot at mobile vaccination, she said.

As of Monday, Butte-Silver Bow had administered a total of 30,065 doses of COVID vaccine, putting the county at 1,052.1 doses per 1,000 population, the state’s second-highest vaccination rate.

There were 13,803 individuals fully immunized in the county. That’s about 48% of the county’s eligible population and 39.5% of the county’s total population. In Montana, about 31% of the total population is immunized.

But Sullivan says the goal is to have 80% of the county’s entire population fully immunized, noting that officials cannot yet vaccinate those under age 16.

To make sure things are done within bounds, Gallagher said it’s possible the money from the donor would be run through a nonprofit organization so it can be used for cash prizes. But some of the federal money could be used to hire an independent firm to manage the marketing campaign.

Gallagher has worked with county Budget Director Danette Gleason and Newland & Co., the county’s independent auditor, to ensure the plan can be carried out.

Under goals and strategies already identified by Sullivan, Beretta and others, they want the campaign to be educational and encouraging, not coercive, and foster consistency and transparency about the vaccine, vaccination rates and the pandemic.

Some signs and stickers have already been ordered, including ones that say, “Keep Butte healthy, get vaccinated,” “It’s cool to be healthy, get vaccinated,” and “Kiss me I’m Irish, and vaccinated.” Stickers for dog and cat lovers have also been ordered.

The draft plan envisions both paid and “earned media,” the latter referring to news stories and social media mentions, and there are hopes for newspaper, television and radio ads and other ways of addressing the vaccines and hesitancies in getting them.

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