Public health directors say resources are needed to vaccinate rural communities

COVID-19 vaccine
Posted at 11:00 AM, Apr 13, 2021

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Public health directors for Western New York's rural counties say their populations were disadvantaged even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and resources are needed to help vaccinate their communities.

"Being rural is it's own disparity. We have our challenges in the rural areas specifically to access to care. Orleans County is the worst in the state. Health rankings are just coming out now. Our provider ratio to population is worse than third world countries," said Paul Pettit, Orleans and Genesee Counties Public Health Director.

Petit previously pointed to higher senior populations and broadband connectivity issues as contributing factors that have led to the difficulty with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

That's something Dr. Kevin Watkins, Cattaraugus County Public Health Director, and Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County Public Health Director, agree with.

"Bascially, without broadband we really have found ourselves stagnant in a rural community as we move to telehealth," said Dr. Watkins.

"Chautauqua has a higher population of elderly and a higher population of disabled than anywhere else. We've had problems with technology and being able to actually sign up and get appointments," said Schuyler.

They say the only way to fix this is more resources.

"It's all about funding and making sure the rural communities have an equitable distribution of those resources within their communities in order to deal with some of the things that our rural communities are dealing with on a day to day basis," said Dr. Watkins.

But the health directors say rural counties were excluded when it came time for additional pandemic assistance from the federal government and they will continue to advocate for more resources for their counties.

"Rural health, rural counties and rural residents matter. We need to make sure we all have our voice heard and that ultimately the resources and allocations come our way so we can meet the needs of our residents," said Petit.