Statement on Federally Qualified Health Centers Being Left Out of the On-going Vaccination Effort

Vaccinating millions of New Yorkers this year requires that the State make use of all off the available resources.The State has set up mass vaccination sites on the SUNY Albany Campus, in Plattsburgh, Potsdam, Utica, and has plans for others.County Public Health offices are running vaccine clinics as well, at their offices. We hear from constituents who have secured appointments and who have been able to travel to these locations, that these sites are very efficient. Pharmacies are also starting to open vaccine appointments for certain groups within the eligible categories, which is a great option, if you live in a community that has a pharmacy. 

Still, after seven weeks of vaccine distribution, and 2 million people vaccinated, we haven’t reached all of the elderly citizens of this state.Elderly folks who live a significant distance from a mass vaccination site, and elderly folks who live in communities where there are no pharmacies.These are the people who need the vaccine most, who are the most isolated, and who are unable to get to the places where vaccines are being offered.

The Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are uniquely positioned to reach the most vulnerable populations in hard to reach locations.Yet, these organizations in the Capital Region and North Country have not received an allocation of the vaccine for the last three weeks.In the continuum of healthcare providers, these are the providers who generally extend important healthcare resources to people who live in rural communities.

Hudson Headwaters Health Network, which serves 98,000 patients in 21 health centers across a 7,200-mile service area (larger than the state of Connecticut), is an example of the FQHCs meeting the healthcare needs of rural communities.Within three weeks of wide-scale vaccine rollout, Hudson Headwaters immunized 4,850 people in the Priority 1A and 1B groups, utilizing virtually all of the vaccine they were allotted.They had the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 more people in the following week, but the State did not provide them with an allocation that week, or since.

Federally Qualified Health Centers have the bandwidth and the IT infrastructure necessary to get the immunization process up and running quickly.It is safer and easier for an elderly patient to drive 20 minutes to their local health center than for them to drive from Argyle to Plattsburgh to reach a mass vaccination site. In the first week of the roll-out, Hudson Headwaters received 60,000 phone calls asking to schedule a vaccine appointment. 

People are anxious.Many have lived isolated for 11 months now with the promise of an effective vaccine being the light at the end of the tunnel.Now that the vaccine is here, their inability to get immunized because they are unable to drive a distance, because they can’t navigate the online sign up, or because there is no pharmacy in their town, is creating a level of anxiety that is unhealthy—physically, mentally and emotionally.Engaging the Federally Qualified Health Centers to vaccinate their eligible patients gives us a needed path to relieve the stress and get our most vulnerable people the relief they need and deserve.I urge the Governor and the Commissioner of Health to include Federally Qualified Health Centers in the State’s distribution plans once again.