400 attend pop-up site at Native Pride
IRVING — With COVID-19 vaccinations rolling out all over the country, accessibility to the vaccine can still be an issue, especially in rural areas. Thanks to the combined efforts of Dr. Raul Vazquez, president of Buffalo’s G-Health Enterprises, and J.C. Seneca, owner of Native Pride Travel Plaza, vaccinations were made more accessible.
On Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Native Pride Travel Plaza provided 400 vaccines for eligible individuals, including truck drivers and motorists who frequent Native Pride, as well as Natives from the Allegany and Cattaraugus Territories and residents from the surrounding communities. The push for truck stops to host vaccination centers is something Seneca is very passionate about, and hosting it at his location gives him a sense of pride.
“We’re one of the first truck stops in America to have a pop up vaccine site,” Seneca said. “That’s significant. It means a lot to me too to provide something so cutting edge. There are over 2,000 truck stops that are a part of the National Association of Truck Stop Owners. NATSO has been advocating to the CDC and HHS to designate truck stops as vaccination sites, but they haven’t been able to gain that status from those organizations. Today, we’re able to provide that. We’re on the leading edge of showing it’s a good thing to do.”
This is something that has been in the works since this past December, when Dr. Vazquez and Seneca first came together. According to Seneca, the two met for two and a half hours, working on providing immediate health care services to an area that is in desperate need of them.
“We have so much in common in our vision for the future in regards to health care,” Seneca said. “So we started collaborating. We were talking about issues in regards to urgent care, behavioral, mental health, and addiction services that’s needed in the community. In the last 12 years, we’ve lost the Gowanda hospital, and Lakeshore Hospital. The need for people to have something accessible when they need it is not here, people have to travel many miles to get help.
“When the vaccine became available, we focused on bringing vaccines out to rural areas,” Seneca continued. “He normally functions in Buffalo, focusing on black and native communities out there. He does a great job, he’s a great person and a great doctor with great vision. For me to be involved with somebody like him is amazing. I’m so thankful to be able to do that.”
Once the vaccines became available, the date was set for the pop up center to come to Native Pride, accomplishing the goal of providing better benefits to the Seneca Nation and surrounding communities. And according to workers on site, the vaccination center was a success.
“There haven’t been any reactions to any vaccines,” said Terrance Gaiter, the Office Coordinator at Urban Family Practice. “Everybody’s been calm. People are a little anxious like every other vaccine when they first come in, but they calm down as you talk about it. Everybody has been happy with it so far.”
Gaiter, who served as Dr. Vazquez’s stand-in at the vaccination center said that they administered about half the available Johnson and Johnson vaccines in the first two hours of the clinic. And if everything goes according to plan, this event will not be the last at Native Pride.
“We’re working J.C. and Seneca Pride for a couple other events,” Gaiter said. “We’re trying to get out here, and we’re working on getting more vaccines to come back out here in the near future.”
In March, Seneca and Dr. Vazquez partnered in an educational “Table Talk” COVID vaccine forum at the Tallchief Diner at Native Pride. The event connected the two men with a group of Native women and men in age ranges from twenties through their eighties who have already been vaccinated and those not intending to get the vaccine. The informational talk was videoed with film clips now available for viewing on the Tallchief Territory, Home of the Native Pride YouTube Page NativePrideYouTube.