Federal Programs to Bring More Vaccines to Arkansas

Two initiatives are expected to result in more vaccinations across the state.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pleased with the vaccination roll out in Arkansas, but more help is on the way. During his weekly briefing on the pandemic yesterday, he provided an update on the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which is expected to provide a 20 percent increase in available vaccines across the state. A total of 11,000 doses are expected to be delivered to 58 Walmart stores later this week and Hutchinson said they should be able to start administering those vaccines Friday. 

“That’s an effective partnership that adds to the partnerships we already have in place with our community pharmacies and our hospitals,” Hutchinson said.

A new partnership with federally-qualified community health centers is on the horizon. During a call with the Biden administration’s coronavirus task force yesterday, Gov Hutchinson was told 1 million doses will be distributed to community health centers across the country. 

“This will be a start of a new federal effort to get the vaccines out to more of the population in rural areas or the underserved areas and so it increases access to them,” Hutchinson said. “This will be over and above our state allocation.”

Arkansas has 12 community health organizations with 120 clinics. It is not yet known which of these will receive the vaccine or how much. No action can be taken yet, Hutchinson said, because officials are awaiting more information.

The governor is also anticipating guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on what to do with doses of the vaccine that go unused when a patient does not show up for a second appointment. This is expected to impact a small segment of the population. As of yesterday, nearly 13 percent of Arkansans had been vaccinated, which Hutchinson called a “huge step forward in our fight against COVID-19.”

Health Secretary Dr. José Romero noted the state “reached an important milestone” yesterday. For the first time in months, the 7-day average of the state’s positivity rate dipped below 10 percent. 

“Things are moving in the right direction; we can keep them moving as long as we continue our mitigation strategies and our vaccines are moving outward,” Romero said. “We’re starting to get them into portions of the state where we have an equal distribution across the entire state and we’ll be working on that as we receive new vaccines.”

Health officials continue to send specimens to the CDC to test for virus variants, which Dr. Romero said he expects to arrive in Arkansas eventually.

“We’re looking for them, but that will not change our strategy,” he said. “Our strategy still remains to vaccinate as many people as we can, keep the number of individuals to as low as possible where the virus can’t replicate, and then keep the mitigation measures going. We can keep this under control.”

More information about COVID-19 and vaccination efforts is 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.