Assemblyman hopes rural ambulance companies can help distribute vaccines

Phot by Darren McGee, Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo
March 05, 2021 – Batavia NY- First day of vaccinations with Johnson & Johnson single-dose Covid-19 vaccine at SUNY Genesee Community College in Batavia. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara wants to enlist rural ambulance companies to help vaccinate more New Yorkers in sparsely populated areas of the state.

As New Yorkers in rural areas of the state struggle to access vaccine sites, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara has written to the state Department of Health asking for the agency to issue guidelines that would allow ambulance services to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in more sparsely populated regions. 

As the representative of many rural communities, Santabarbara notes that transportation can pose a significant barrier for many New Yorkers, making travel to mass vaccination sites difficult or impossible. 

“If our state wants to reach critical herd immunity and provide fair access to the vaccine, we must allow ambulance services, which already play vital roles in these communities, to become vaccine distributors, the assemblyman said.”

These services would be a vital  resource to the rural communities of New York, especially with the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine now available. 

In his letter to Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, points out that other states have created a system for rural ambulance services to serve as vaccination distributors, but doing so in New York would require resources and guidelines.

“While mass vaccination sites have recently been established in upstate cities, many New Yorkers who live in rural regions of the state simply do not have the time or means to travel to  these new sites,” Santabarbara wrote. “Metropolitan areas may be able to serve a greater proportion of the population, but we can not leave our rural communities behind.” 

Santabarbara notes that Medicare and Medicaid have issued guidelines on reimbursement rates for ambulances that perform vaccine administration. However, becoming a vaccine administrator can be a complicated process, and ambulance services in rural areas already struggle with limited staff and resources, he said. 

“Therefore, it’s critical that we move forward on this issue to help ensure that rural communities get equitable vaccine access,” He wrote. “Other states have already moved forward with plans to add ambulance services into their vaccination strategies and it’s time for New York to put a plan in motion as well.

“I urge you to consider this proposal to address the unique challenges of serving rural populations.”

The Department of Health has yet to respond to Santabarbara’s letter.

“Without ensuring we have methods in place to reach all New Yorker’s who want access to the vaccine, we are undermining our own efforts to get this virus under control,” Santabarbara wrote.