New tool to vaccinate people in hard to reach places around Erie County

Posted at 4:53 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 17:02:55-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — This week, the Erie County Department of Health is expecting 1,700 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for folks who had their appointment canceled last month.

But with limits to distribution-- and only a few distribution sites-- the county is hopeful its mobile vaccination van could soon be sent into harder to reach places. This will help make sure everyone is getting a shot.

Front to back, this former mobile mammography unit is supped up. It's equipped to handle medical emergencies and traumas.

The van will also become a mobile vaccination clinic and will travel to hard to reach places in Erie county.

"This is an extremely important tool to reach out and provide people healthcare related to COVID-19," said Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.

But that won't be for some time.

Erie County is expecting to get 2,000 doses of the COVID vaccine each week, for the next couple of weeks.

1,700 doses will be used for people who are part of the 1B category. Those shots will be given out at the county's points of distribution. The focus is on those 9,000 people who've had their appointments canceled. It could take weeks before Erie County is caught up.

It could be even longer before the van is on the road-- with vaccine -- moving into under served communities.

"We're hoping in the spring when Pfizer and Moderna are able to release more doses of vaccine...we'll be able to go out to areas where we know there are disparities and people are struggling to get vaccinated," Burstein said.

The County is working to identify pockets of people who are having a hard time getting vaccinated. It'll be using state data and community partnerships to find those folks in rural parts of Erie County, people who aren't able to leave their homes and in urban areas, where vaccine equity is a top priority.

"For these communities of color -- the healthcare system hasn't been good to these communities," Burstein said. "I understand that healthcare has not always done the right thing with those populations and we have to build up trust again. You just have to acknowledge, ask for forgiveness and ask for trust and that's what we're trying to do."

In the meantime, this $450,000 van--paid for with money from the federal CARES Act-- is acting as a command center at different points of distribution in Erie County.

This van is just another tool for greater outreach. Few counties are equipped with a mobile clinic like this, so they're hoping to use this as a regional asset.

There is no telling when more vaccine will be made available.