Seneca Nation, Cattaraugus County unite to distribute, promote COVID vaccine

Mar 25, 2021

The Seneca Nation is playing a role in distribution of COVID vaccinations by hosting a clinic inside the Seneca Allegany Events Center. It’s a joint effort with the Cattaraugus County Health Department to deliver shots, and convince other eligible persons to sign up.

An estimated 1,500 people were scheduled to be served by this clinic, which was administering second doses of the COVID vaccine to eligible recipients, whether they were Seneca Nation members or non-Native citizens.

People arrived for their appointments Thursday to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine inside the Seneca Allegany Events Center in Salamanca. The Seneca Nation and Cattaraugus County Health Department are collaborating to deliver vaccine shots to eligible recipients, taking advantage of the center's large operational space.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

“The county was looking for a vaccination site that could accommodate more people. The Seneca Gaming Corporation heard about it and offered the premises to help the community,” said Seneca Nation Treasurer Rickey Armstrong. “We want our community to be safe. So we offered our premises to them so that we can work together as neighbors.”

What usually serves as a concert and entertainment venue has been converted into a spacious clinic. After checking in, recipients were led to one of several curtains, behind which the shots were given. Dozens of spaced seats were occupied by individuals who had just received their doses and were sitting through a required waiting period, during which personnel stood by in the event of any adverse reactions. No one served complained of problems. 

Cattaraugus County Public Health Director Dr. Kevin Watkins says about 23 to 24 percent of the population has been vaccinated. Older residents have come forward to receive their doses. Younger eligible patients, however, have been tougher to persuade. Watkins believes one of the reasons fewer younger people appear willing to get the shot is because they feel that even if they're infected, they would not suffer serious symptoms.

“I want to let them know, we have had folks who are as young as 20, and some who are young little children, who have died from this virus,” Dr. Watkins said. “So we don't want them to be complacent. And do realize that even if you do contract the virus, you can take the virus home to a loved one. And that loved one can have a severe effect from the virus, which can definitely cause death. We want them to think about others as well.”

Armstrong told WBFO the trends and attitudes are similar among the Seneca population.

“I'm understanding it’s a distrust in the vaccine itself," he replied, when asked why there might be resistance by some. "So, I don't know how you overcome that other than to show off by example.”

And Armstrong is an example. He received his second dose last month.

Meanwhile, waiting in line for his second dose was Cattaraugus County Legislator Rick Smith. The Olean-based representative was asked how well people were receiving the vaccination message.

"I think it's been pretty good," Smith said. "I think the turnout over in (Jamestown Community College) and over here is going well. We're starting to get the vaccines then and I think people are getting it," he said.

But Watkins says there's more work to do with younger citizens.

”We'll need to somehow get into that niche of getting the message out to that group, and talk about the importance of getting vaccinated, as they are the ones who are most likely to be infected at this point," he said.