State Moves to Next Phase of COVID-19 Vaccinations

Educators and Arkansans aged 70 and older are eligible for immunizations starting Jan. 18.

Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero
Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero speaks at the state's weekly update on the pandemic.

The Arkansas Department of Health has been rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine in phases since Dec. 14, 2020. Because there is a limited supply, officials are prioritizing who can access the vaccine first. 

Health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders have been receiving that COVID-19 vaccine as members of Phase 1-A. During yesterday’s weekly briefing on the pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state is on target to reach its Phase 1-A goal by the end of the month and as such, it’s time to start providing immunizations to new groups of Arkansans. 

“Today I’m announcing that we’re going to move to two categories of 1-B, which is the age of 70 and older and the other category would be our K-12 school staff and employees, our daycare employees, as well as our higher education staff and teachers,” Hutchinson said. 

These new groups will be eligible for vaccination beginning Jan. 18. 

“The reason for this is we want to continue to increase as fast as we can, getting these doses into the arms of Arkansans and at the same time being able to manage the limited supply that we’re given,” he said.

The Arkansas Department of Health reports 24,125 vaccines were given in the last 24 hours. The state has been receiving about 50,000 doses a week and Hutchinson said he expects that to increase.

For Arkansans aged 70 or older, vaccines will be available through community pharmacies located in every county in Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Health has a map on its website of participating pharmacies. Arkansans should call ahead to make an appointment. Vaccine clinics and events may also be available in your area through hospitals and health care providers.

For educators and child care workers, officials are advising districts to first determine how many doses are needed and then reach out to the ADH Local Health Unit or pharmacy in their county to schedule a vaccination clinic. 

Between education employees and Arkansans age 70 and older, officials estimate that’s an additional 443,000 people who will be eligible for vaccination beginning Monday. 

There has been discussion nationally, Hutchinson said, about adding other priority groups. However, depending on the size of the group, it could overwhelm local pharmacies and outnumber the COVID-19 vaccine supply. 

“We have to manage the process in a way that gets vaccines out as quick as possible, but also in a way that gives priority to those that need it the most,” Hutchinson said. 

The governor has tasked Arkansas National Guard and Arkansas Department of Emergency Management officials to develop a plan focused on the logistics of rolling out the vaccine to more groups of Arkansans. The report is due Jan. 15 and Gov. Hutchinson said it will be posted online. Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero thanked the officials for their effort on the initiative.

“It’s clear that we’re stretched between multiple fronts on this and their help has been instrumental in getting this done,” Dr. Romero said.

The state will be getting more vaccines in the future and there is a third vaccine on the horizon. The new vaccine will be discussed by health officials soon and hopefully will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Romero said. 

“Vaccines will increase in the relatively near future,” he said. “The point at this moment is that we begin to immunize those at highest risk for morbidity and mortality. I think we can have the most impact.”

The Arkansas Department of Health yesterday reported another 3,200 Arkansans have tested positive for the virus. After reaching an all-time record the day prior, virus-related hospitalizations decreased slightly to 1,354. While this may be a welcome change to health care workers who have seen day after day of record hospitalizations during the new year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said more work still needs to be done.

“With the increase yesterday and the day before, we’ve still got a ways to go to give any real relief to our hospitals. It’s still a challenge for us,” Hutchinson said. 

ADH reported 40 more Arkansans have died from the virus and Gov. Hutchinson said officials are anxious to reduce that number as well. Updates about the spread of COVID-19 as well as vaccine distribution in the state are available at the Arkansas Department of Health’s website

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.