Campbell County Commissioners vote against using CARES dollars for vaccination campaign

GILLETTE — Campbell County Commissioners voted against using federal dollars for an educational campaign about the COVID-19 vaccine, with one commissioner worried that the campaign would be veering into the territory of vaccine mandates.

At the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday, Campbell County Public Health Director Jane Glaser presented contracts with two companies — Sylvestri Customization and OC Equity — for vaccine outreach and education.

In March, Public Health received nearly $500,000 in CARES Act dollars passed through the state Department of Health for COVID-19 vaccination campaign activities. The commissioners approved that grant in March. Public Health has used those dollars to pay for vaccination clinics, supplies and gas for the department’s mobile unit, among other things.

Public Health has $329,000 of the grant left, and each county has been directed by the state to develop a vaccination campaign.

“It’s truly just going to be educational,” Glaser said of the proposed campaign. “If people want to get the vaccine, wonderful. We’re not in the business of mandating anybody, but we would like to get the correct information out to the public so people can make their own informed decision.”

The contract with Sylvestri was for $7,200, while OC Equity’s contract was $104,721. These would have been paid for with CARES dollars.

Commission Chairman Bob Maul and Commissioners Del Shelstad and Colleen Faber voted against the contracts.

“I’ve got a real problem with a campaign for vaccination if it doesn’t include telling people that they have their own right to make their own choice,” Shelstad said. “To be part of approving something that goes to a campaign to say, you need to be vaccinated, I just don’t agree with that.”

Glaser reiterated that the campaign would not include any wording that would make people think they were going to be required to get vaccinated.

“We are going to be very neutral and focus on education, not a mandate, because a mandate doesn’t get us anywhere,” she said.

Commissioners Rusty Bell and D.G. Reardon supported the campaign.

“These dollars are going to get injected into some economy. It might as well be ours,” Bell said.

"(It) “doesn’t hurt to educate people," Reardon said.

Faber said she hears and sees ads about vaccinations “all day long,” and she wondered if the money would be better spent elsewhere.

“I think my biggest issue with this is, this is federal money. I’m sure in that campaign it’s got some federal influence,” Shelstad said.

County deputy attorney Sean Brown said any messaging put out by either campaign must be approved by Public Health.

Shelstad said the federal government has gone about the vaccine the wrong way by mandating it.

“If they would’ve just said, ‘It’s voluntary’ … they’d have a lot more people get vaccinated,” he said. “I’m not anti-vaccination, I’m anti-mandate, period.”