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Gowanda mayor says rural community is struggling to access the COVID-19 vaccine

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Posted at 10:33 PM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 22:46:57-04

GOWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Erie County Department of Health said 2.7% of Gowanda residents have been vaccinated, but the lead of the Western New York planning team, Dr. Nancy Nielsen, said that's not the full story.

"Gowanda lies partly in Erie County and partly in Cattaraugus County. That's part of the problem," Dr. Nielsen said.

Dr. Nielsen said you factor in the part of Gowanda that lies in Cattaraugus County, and more people have been vaccinated.

"As of three weeks ago, 10% of the population in that zip code has had a first dose, which is not bad for three weeks ago," Dr. Nielsen said.

A representative for the Erie County Health Department said, "Our data report... was inclusive of Erie County residents, so is not an exact reflection of the vaccination rate for all ZIP code residents."

The Health Department also said Native Americans living on the reservation in the area may receive vaccines from the Seneca Nation Health System. That would not be reflected in the Erie County data.

"Native Americans in Cattaraugus County have been immunized. It's 11.4%, so it is not the 2.7% that you're seeing," Dr. Nielsen said.

While more than 2.7% of Gowanda's population has been vaccinated, Gowanda Mayor David Smith said there are still problems accessing the vaccine.

"The registration process online has been very loborious and arduous for some of our community members, probably in most rural areas," Mayor Smith said.

Mayor Smith said a lack of internet access makes it tough to book an appointment, and even if people can, they are often canceled. He said Gowanda residents have driven as far as Syracuse to secure a dose.

"Due to whatever site running out of vaccine prior to their appointment," Mayor Smith said.

The Erie County Department of Health said they are working to plan pop-up clinics throughout the county to address lower vaccination rates in certain zip codes.

"Getting those vaccines out in higher quantities to rural areas and sites in those rural areas would really be a huge help," Mayor Smith said.