BATAVIA — Area officials are lobbying Gov. Andrew Cuomo to establish a mass COVID-19 vaccination site at Genesee Community College.
The officials say the college’s Batavia campus is a perfect location — and would help an underserved and vulnerable population. State officials say they’d like to expand access, but allocations from the federal government are themselves still limited.
The group of area officials included representatives of Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, They sent a letter last week to Gov. Andrew Cuomo requesting the designation.
“A regional mass vaccination clinic would be a great partnership between community leaders and the state,” said Orleans County Legislature Chairperson Lynne Johnson. “A tri-county clinic would help to bridge resource and service gaps that are only too familiar to socially-vulnerable rural communities like Orleans County.
“We receive about 200 vaccine doses a week,” she continued. “With such limited supply and no broadband internet options for people to register online for vaccines, addressing the needs of just our seniors has been insurmountable.”
The potential for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supply 1,000 vaccine doses per day at a site manned by the National Guard would bring incredible relief and assistance to Orleans County, and take some pressure off the three local sites that have such limited supply, Johnson said.
The letter highlighted the region’s lack of access.
“These counties have consistently been left out of the COVID-19 response, with delays in testing supplies and now with very limited vaccine allocations,” the representatives said. “All three counties are medically underserved and having a regional clinic with less than a half hour commute would benefit these communities.”
Many residents of Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties have limited access to transportation to travel 45-to-60-minute commute twice to safely get the COVID-19 vaccine. This would also draw the eastern and western portions of other contiguous counties.
“The college campus is easily accessible from the Thruway. The GCC campus facility, if properly staffed, through assistance by the National Guard has the capacity of vaccinating in excess of 2,000 individuals per day,” the letter to Cuomo read. “Our three counties look forward to working with your office to provide this much needed and more equitable solution to meet the needs of the more rural communities.
Local leaders asked Cuomo to contact Genesee and Orleans Public Health Director Paul Pettit to discuss establishing GCC as a mass vaccination site.
The letter was signed by Chairwoman Rochelle Stein of the Genesee County Legislature; Chairwoman Lynne Johnson of the Orleans County Legislature; Chairwoman Rebecca Ryan of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors; Director Paul Pettit of the Genesee and Orleans County health departments; and Dr. Gregory Collins, Wyoming County Health Department medical director.
Assenblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, said a mass vaccination site at GCC would benefit over 138,000 people.
“As more New Yorkers become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and schedule their appointments, opening more vaccination sites that are easily accessible to the public is key to getting as many shots in arms as possible,” Hawley said in a separate letter to Cuomo. “Increased vaccination sites mean more members of the community can access the most important tool we have to beat this pandemic and save lives, because we are all New Yorkers, no matter where we live.”
Andina E. Barone, Orleans County spokesperson, said even though Orleans County has three vaccine sites currently — Ridgeway Fire Hall, Rosenkrans Pharmacy Inc. in Medina and Oak Orchard Clinic in Albion — they don’t get a lot of doses of COVID vaccine per week.
“They’ve been disparately hit because of the nursing homes and underserved when it comes to the vaccine doses,” Barone said. “This is all exacerbated by the fact that there’s no high-speed broadband for Orleans County.” There’s been a lack of high-speed broadband in Orleans County for so long that people who need to use the internet to make appointments for vaccinations can’t navigate the system. That is the perfect group for mass vaccination services at GCC, she said.
“The population in Orleans and in the surrounding counties are very socially vulnerable. They should be highly considered for a mass vaccination site,” Barone said.
State officials would like to expand access, but they’re still facing the challenge of limited supplies.
“New York state has operationalized one of the largest vaccine distribution networks in the nation, with over 5,000 providers statewide, and nearly 4 million shots administered to date,” said Jill Montag, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health. “The state has also taken special efforts to reach communities where access is lowest, hesitancy rates are the highest, and vaccination rates are below average, but as with everything, the state’s supply is limited by the allocation we receive from the federal government. We look forward to being able to continue to expand access as the federal government increases the supply of vaccines.”