Dukes County commissioners are partnering with Barnstable County officials and other entities on-Island to promote vaccination in the younger population.
Commission chair Christine Todd said she has been working with Barnstable since the commission’s last meeting a month ago to determine a budget and a path forward for the campaign, along with looping Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Martha’s Vineyard Airport into the initiative. “We are exploring the possibility of doing a Cape and Islands regional campaign to promote vaccination,” Todd said.
As proposed currently, the campaign would be a collaborative effort between counties and municipalities on the Cape and Islands. Todd said Barnstable has agreed to fund $50,000 as its share.
“The budget is currently an estimate, but Barnstable was essentially looking at a campaign that might run around $150,000. They are looking to contribute a third of that,” she said.
Todd also said she will be reaching out to Nantucket County to get them on board.
According to Todd, the collaboration and communication with Barnstable has been “an amazing experience,” and she feels as if the work they’ve done together so far has strengthened the two counties’ relationship.
Although the target audience of the campaign is still fluid, Todd said, it’s central aim is 20- to 30-year-olds who haven’t been vaccinated.
The messaging can be changed at any point to correspond with the state of public health in the Cape and Islands region, Todd said. “As guidelines change and populations become more clearly identified that need to be targeted, the messaging can be tweaked to hit that population. We are looking at a print campaign, a video campaign, and a social media campaign,” Todd said. “The tagline is going to read, ‘Are you going to be a part of the vaxxed nation?’”
Certain messaging will appeal to younger crowds, with local references that make the content meaningful and effective for people who visit and live here.
Although Dukes County is contributing significantly less than Barnstable toward the campaign, Todd said, it would still be a sign of good faith and collaboration with the neighboring county.
Todd also said she spoke with the Steamship Authority, and they are “behind it 100 percent,” and are even planning to offer “pro bono spots on the boats to promote the campaign.”
Airport director Geoff Freeman was also supportive of the idea, according to Todd.
Commissioner Tristan Israel suggested taking $15,000 from the Dukes County economic development MV License Plate fund, and putting it toward the campaign.
Even though commissioner Don Leopold said he supports the idea in theory, he was hesitant to consider paying for creative elements of advertising and messaging when there is so much that already exists around the country.
“I find that very hard conceptually to support. I am torn, because I completely agree with the desire to partner with all the folks whom you have worked so closely with,” Leopold said.
Commissioners narrowly passed a motion by Israel to reallocate $15,000 from the MV License Plate fund to the vaccination promotion campaign.
Commissioners Leopold and John Cahill voted nay, and commissioner Leon Brathwaite abstained.
In a follow-up phone conversation with The Times, Todd said she has decided to pursue the possibility of the vaccination campaign being funded entirely by COVID-related relief funds from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Association (MEMA), the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. She said she has spoken with state officials who indicated that a vaccination messaging effort would most likely be eligible for the federal and state grants.
In order to simplify and expedite the process, Todd said, she has been communicating with Barnstable to gauge its interest in running all the relief funds through its county government, and then collaborating with the other counties and county entities who are involved to determine how the money is spent.
Before the idea to utilize COVID relief money to fund the vaccination effort, Todd said, she was prepared to request financial support from entities like the hospital, airport, and even the Obama Foundation to fill the budget.
Todd added that she reached out to Nantucket County, and its health department expressed enthusiasm in a regional Cape and Islands approach.
Dukes County commissioners also reached a unanimous decision to apply for roughly $3 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act funding that can be used by the county in a number of different ways.
Although there is no deadline to apply for the funds, county manager Martina Thornton said it is a good idea to start the process in order to get more information, and work toward determining how the money will be handled from the minute accounting and administrative responsibilities are handed over to the county.
The county will get about $1.5 million soon after its application is received by the federal government, and then roughly an additional $1.5 million a year after the application is received.
According to commissioner Peter Wharton, there are four avenues the county could take: Accept the money and expend it on a project or within the county operating budget; accept it and subgrant it to entities of the county’s choosing; accept it and transfer it back to the state, at which point the state would decide how it’s spent; or decline the grant opportunity.
“I think the last two options aren’t in the best interests of the people of Dukes County,” Wharton said.
According to Thornton, it’s up to the county to spend the money responsibly, otherwise the federal government can require it to pay back any grant funds received.
The deadline for Dukes County to appropriate any funds received from the ARP Act is December 2024, but the county has until the end of 2026 to actually spend the money.
“The documentation and review process will go well into 2027,” Thornton said.
She added that the county can use the funds to hire its own staff to administer the process and make sure each step is done correctly.
Israel noted that individual towns will receive their own ARP money, regardless of whether the county decides to subgrant money to Island towns.
In order to develop a transparent and efficient process for handling the funds, commissioners and members of the county advisory board are forming a steering committee that would not serve as a decision-making entity, but would instead determine the best practices for acquiring and spending the money.
Skipper Manter, Bill Rossi, and Jeff Kristal of the county advisory board (CAB) said they are willing to be on the steering committee, according to Todd, with Cahill, Leopold, and Wharton representing the county commission.
All steering committee meetings will be open to the general public.
Thornton said she has asked county legal counsel for input on the process, and more specifically, how the CAB plays into the county’s decision on where and how the funds will be allocated.