The governor says the eligibility expansion will keep the state on track to meet its vaccination goals.
All Arkansans in Phase 1-B of the state’s vaccination plan are now eligible to be immunized. This includes grocery store workers, public transit workers and essential government workers. Gov. Asa Hutchinson made the announcement during a press conference this morning. Previously, Arkansans age 65 and older, educators and, as of last week, food manufacturing workers were the only members of this category who could receive the vaccine.
Over the weekend, vaccination clinics around the state did not have the demand they anticipated. This could indicate people are getting vaccinations in different places or that there’s some resistance to the vaccine, Hutchinson said.
“We have to keep the demand for the vaccines up, we have to keep the lines full because people want access to those vaccines and we want to make sure we get them out as fast as we can,” he said.
The governor cited one mass vaccination in Jonesboro where they had around 3,000 doses, but only administered about 2,000. Officials say the state has been “extremely efficient” and has only lost a total of 234 doses out of the more than 1 million vaccines that have been delivered to Arkansas.
The expansion will include about 180,000 more people and Hutchinson said the state is still on track to vaccinate all of Phase 1-B by the end of March and move on to Phase 1-C in April. People with intellectual or developmental disabilities are being moved to Phase 1-B so they are eligible for vaccinations now as well.
“The reason for this is they’re a very vulnerable population that is susceptible to the virus and we want to have them covered,” Hutchinson said. “And then secondly, it’s a small number, relatively speaking, in that category.”
Health officials have already vaccinated many in this group who are housed in a residential facility for intellectual or developmental disabilities. The eligibility expansion will help vaccinate those who were not previously covered.
Scheduling appointments at local pharmacies with internet-based systems has been difficult for some Arkansans, so the governor announced a new, statewide toll-free hotline to provide additional assistance. The call center is supplementary to the current system of contacting a pharmacy or clinic directly.
The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be accessed by calling 1-800-985-6030. Today 20 personnel are being devoted to the hotline and that will increase to 30 tomorrow. Translation services are available and call center personnel can help schedule appointments at Arkansas Department of Health clinics. Call center workers can also help direct Arkansans to clinics and pharmacies in their community.
“We can help guide you to the right one, but you’ll still have to make the call and make that appointment,” Hutchinson said. “But we can give you the list, we can help you navigate to get to the right provider for that appointment.”
Some Arkansans have signed up on multiple lists to receive a vaccine and Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said that can cause some problems for pharmacies and clinics trying to allocate their dosages.
“It’s important not to do that or if you are on multiple lists, to rapidly remove your names from your lists [once you’re vaccinated] so that we can open up other positions for citizens in the state,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new recommendations today for individuals who have been fully vaccinated. This includes gathering with other families that don’t have serious conditions or have not been vaccinated, and you don’t have to quarantine if you’ve been exposed to somebody who has COVID-19.
“It is an incentive to get your vaccination,” Romero said.
As health officials open vaccinations to more Arkansans, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is urging people to get vaccinated and be patient as they make appointments.
“We treat all of these vaccines alike in terms of their efficacy and we urge everyone to take what is available,” he said.
More information about the state’s vaccination efforts is available at healthy.arkansas.gov.