Push to prioritize Niagara County residents at state-run Niagara Falls vaccination site

Posted at 12:28 AM, Mar 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-16 00:29:03-04

The Conference Center of Niagara Falls is set to become a state-run mass vaccination site. Local leaders and community members say Niagara County residents should have priority.

The Niagara Falls Peacemakers, Niagara Falls City Council members, Mayor Robert Restaino and others gathered on the steps of Niagara Falls City Hall on Monday to discuss what vaccine equity should look like at the mass vaccination site.

“I think that we can all relate to equitable access when it comes to Niagara County residents as a whole because again you have urban residents in the urban community that’s dealing with this issue, but also in our rural community," Ezra Scott Jr., Coordinator of the Niagara Falls Peacemakers said. "So Niagara County residents first, that’s what we’re pushing.”

Scott said he's concerned after what happened at the state-run site in Genesee County. According to the local health department, nearly half the doses went to Erie County residents.

Scott said it's not just about who can register, but how. Him and others who gathered outside City Hall are calling or on-site registration and the ability to book appointments through 211.

“In terms of registering for appointments, you have to be very literate and also computer savvy," Scott said. "If you’re not one of the two, you’re gonna have a difficult time.”

The groups are also advocating for mobile vaccination units to reach hard hit and tough to reach areas.

Rolanda L. Ward is on the Niagara Falls Health Equity Task Force and is part of Western New York Vaccine Hub's health equity task force. She said these conversations, including community members wishes for residency priority, are happening in their meetings with state officials.

"It was communicated in our last hub call, and the message was heard, the question is will the state actually respond to what is being asked," Ward said.

Ward said Niagara County Chairman Rebecca Wydysh has been fighting for the requests as well. Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said concerns about accessibility and transportation raised by the community have been discussed on recent calls he's been on regarding scheduling at the site.

7 Eyewitness News asked the state when the site will open, and if there will be residency requirements. A spokesperson from the NYS Department of Health referred to last week's announcement that more details will be available in the coming days.

“Having a site is not equity, equity is you're making sure that the people who are must vulnerable are actually going to benefit from the service that you're providing," Ward said.

According to state data, 20.8% of Niagara County residents received at least one dose of the vaccine. 22.5%.of New Yorkers have received at least one dose.