Governor Expands Vaccination Eligibility Within 1-B Category

Food manufacturing workers may now make vaccination appointments.

Health Secretary Dr. José Romero
Health Secretary Dr. José Romero provides an update on the pandemic Mar. 2, 2021.

Effective immediately, poultry workers and other food manufacturing employees can receive the COVID-19 vaccine. After consultation with the Arkansas Department of Health, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an expansion of eligibility for groups in Phase 1-B of the state’s vaccination plan during his weekly update on the pandemic yesterday. 

“We’re making progress, step by step, and so hopefully that’s a word of encouragement for those in the 1-C category that at some point in April we want to get to you and if the supply increases, we’ll get to that sooner,” Hutchinson said. 

The estimated 49,000 Arkansans impacted by the announcement can receive immunizations through employer-organized clinics or at community pharmacies and clinics. 

The expansion is supported by a continued increase in vaccine supply. The White House coronavirus task force is sending an additional 2,500 to 3,000 vaccines to Arkansas and the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine has received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The state will receive 24,000 doses of the new vaccine later this week and Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said it will be distributed throughout the state without any specific designation.  

“The advantage of that vaccine is that it can be stored at room temperature and it can give immunity after one dose,” Romero said. 

In an effort to continue increasing the availability of vaccines in rural parts of the state, ADH will designate one location in each of the state’s five public health regions for vaccine distribution each week. Clinics will be scheduled in counties with low vaccine rates. Vaccines will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis initially, but reservations will be available later on, Gov. Hutchinson said. 

There is no out-of-pocket expense, but Arkansans should bring their insurance card if they have it. Vaccine recipients will be able to return for the second dose at the appropriate time. The initial counties being targeted are Conway, Dallas, Lee, Mississippi and Pulaski. Efforts are underway to create a statewide toll free number to call so Arkansans can identify where to go for these clinics. More information about the hotline will be available next week, Hutchinson said. 

Fifty percent of Arkansans 70 and older have received one dose of the vaccine, while nearly 25 percent have been fully vaccinated. These statistics indicate a resistance to the vaccine that Hutchinson said the state needs to overcome. 

“We want to make sure we continue to encourage those that are in the right age group, the right criteria, to get the vaccination,” he said. “It’s critically important for our entire success in ending this pandemic. So it’s a good place to be now, but we want that number to increase.”

Specifically, Dr. Romero wants that number to increase to 70 percent, the threshold needed for a group to have herd immunity. Continuing to vaccinate Arkansans is important as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the presence of the highly transmissible U.K. variant in the state for the first time. The discovery of the variant is not unexpected and Romero said he’s surprised it wasn’t detected earlier.

“It simply reminds us that we need to use the mask. Regardless of whether it’s a mandated issue or not, we need to keep these masks and use them,” he said. “It also reinforces the need to immunize. Without immunization we won’t be able to protect against these variants.”

Current vaccines available in the United States are effective against the U.K. variant, Romero said. 

More information about the state’s vaccination efforts is available on 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.