BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — New Yorkers over the age of 65 are able to get an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting to that appointment, however, remains a challenge for many people in rural areas.
Around one in five people in the Southern Tier are over the age of 65, or roughly 120,000 people to vaccinate. In many places, appointments are already booked through the spring.
Many seniors, especially those in rural areas, don’t have reliable access to transportation.
Bill Wagner, director of Getthere, a mobility assistance program through the Rural Health Network of South Central New York, said the program is now offering transportation assistance to and from vaccination appointments across the region.
Each year, Getthere provides close to 2,000 free rides to health care appointments to residents in Broome, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Tioga Counties. It also offers trip-planning services, financial assistance and transportation education.
Access to public transit and conveniently located health care can be expensive and require a lot of travel, Wagner explained, depending on where you live.
“If you live in Binghamton, in many cases you can hop on a bus and in 10 minutes or 15 minutes be at the vaccination site,” Wagner said. “But consistent with what we see in just individuals meeting their health care needs, in Delaware County, for example, the average trip to a health care appointment is 30 miles one way.”
Most people who seek Getthere’s help are seniors who can’t drive or don’t have a car. A 60-mile round trip via a private car service—most of which are based in the Southern Tier’s urban hubs—can cost $100, Wagner said.
Wagner said many clients may require rides to the state-run mass vaccination site in Johnson City. That’s where a greater concentration of vaccine doses will be available once states are able to increase their vaccine supply, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo hopes happens under the Biden Administration. So far, a federal shortage of doses has limited the number individual counties receive weekly.
Wagner said that in the last few days, clients have called to request rides to vaccine appointments booked as far out as April. It takes preparation far in advance to ensure that vaccine distribution is equitable.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure everyone has an opportunity to get a vaccination that is eligible, whether they have transportation or not,” Wagner said.
Any resident, regardless of age, with a vaccine appointment can reach the Getthere Call Center for assistance at 1-855-373-4040.