Arkansas Continues to Work on COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution

The governor says the state is trying to balance efficiency with equity.

Gov. Hutchinson provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic
Gov. Asa Hutchinson provides an update on the pandemic during his weekly briefing Jan. 26, 2021

The New York Times is using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine across the country. The Times published its latest report yesterday, which ranked Arkansas 10th out of all 50 states for vaccination distribution. About 6.5 percent of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the new report.

“That’s one indication that we’re making progress and we want to improve that every day,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. “It’s challenging, but we can do better and we want to continue to do that because it saves lives.”

During his weekly briefing on the pandemic yesterday, the governor provided the update on vaccinations because Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero had another obligation and was unable to attend. Since December, the state has been allocated 459,575 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, 234,120 have been administered. The state is working hard to get the vaccine administered as quickly as possible, Gov. Hutchinson said.

“Last week when we received our supply of new first-time doses of the vaccine, 92 percent of the supply coming into the state was in the arms of Arkansans within 48 hours,” he said. 

Now that some Arkansans are ready for their second dose, vaccines are being set aside for this group. The state received 72,825 doses this week, but 37,125 of those are allocated for Arkansans receiving their first dose. The rest will be given to people eligible for their second dose of the vaccine. 

“That’s to give people confidence that once you’re in the system of having received your first vaccine, the second dose will be there for you,” Gov. Hutchinson said.  

The state is constrained by supply and while the supply of vaccines coming to Arkansas has been steady, it has not been increasing each week. Following the governor’s briefing yesterday afternoon, President Joe Biden announced his administration will increase weekly vaccine supply to states, Tribes and territories by 1.4 million doses. Officials are committing to maintaining a total of 10 million doses as the minimum supply level for the next three weeks. 

The state has to know how much vaccine is coming to Arkansas in order to do long-range planning, Gov. Hutchinson said. With a limited supply, there are a number of factors to consider when it comes to distribution.

“You have to balance efficiency in getting the vaccine out with equity,” Hutchinson said. “And the equity is making sure it is distributed in all parts of the state, in the rural areas of the state, and not just concentrating on the urban centers or where you can efficiently distribute it very quickly.”   

Balancing these priorities is important to making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in a limited supply of the vaccine, he said.

“I encourage all Arkansans to be patient in this, you have been,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “We are wanting to make sure that you get access to it when it’s your turn and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that it’s fairly distributed across the state.”

The state moved on to Phase 1-B of its vaccine rollout plan Jan. 18. Arkansans aged 70 and older as well as education and childcare workers are now eligible to receive the vaccine. Arkansans 70 and older can receive be immunized at community pharmacies or clinics around the state. Meanwhile, worksites are scheduling clinics for education and childcare workers.

More information about the state’s vaccination plan is available here

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.