An additional 115,000 people can begin making immunization appointments.
Arkansans age 65 and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. During his weekly pandemic update yesterday, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced officials are lowering the age group from 70 and older. The change is effective immediately and an estimated 115,000 Arkansas are now eligible to schedule vaccination appointments with local clinics and pharmacies.
The move comes as officials anticipate an influx in vaccines to the state. The federal government is allocating around 4,000 additional doses that will be sent to Arkansas next week and that increase in supply is guaranteed for the next three weeks, Hutchinson said. Additionally, Federal Retail Pharmacy Program participants are expected to receive 100,000 more doses nationwide, and officials anticipate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will soon grant Emergency Use Authorization to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which Hutchinson said could result in 2 million more doses being made available across the country as early as next week.
The expansion of vaccine eligibility does not mean all Arkansans 70 and older have been vaccinated. State officials estimate about 15 percent of this age group have received both shots and those who have not yet been vaccinated have not missed their opportunity to do so, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said.
“The number of deaths among long-term care residents is going down and I want to emphasize that for those individuals in long-term care facilities that did not take advantage of their vaccinations in the initial two or three waves, they can still get their vaccine,” Romero said. “I encourage you to do so. It appears to be working within that population of individuals.”
The state is still in Phase 1-B of its vaccination rollout, even though individuals 65 to 69 years old were previously listed in Phase 1-C. Gov. Hutchinson said officials chose to this group next instead of other groups in Phase 1-B like grocery store employees because of their elevated health risks.
“There’s two objectives in the vaccines — one is to keep essential services moving. That’s one of the reasons that we moved educators into a quicker category, because education is so critical,” Hutchinson said. “The other objective is to save lives and whenever you look at the lives that’ve been lost, it’s those of the older age category.”
To encourage vaccination statewide, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield launched the Vaccinate the Natural State initiative Monday in collaboration with various organizations. The campaign will have two primary focuses: business-to-business engagement and hyper-local community engagement.
As part of this effort, a public service and grassroots campaign will be launched to educate Arkansans on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Emphasis will be placed on rural, underserved communities and those with health disparities. Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross, said he knows there are high levels of hesitancy about accepting the vaccine and challenges with getting to the state’s most vulnerable populations.
“We know that to successfully engage those underserved populations, the message must come from someone they trust, in a language and format they understand, and vaccinations must be provided in a place where they feel comfortable and safe,” he said.
More information about the initiative is available at VaccinateTheNaturalState.com.