Health officials urge vaccination to prevent more COVID-19 mutations.
The number of cases involving COVID-19 variants in Arkansas has increased dramatically over the last week. During today’s weekly update on the pandemic, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said the number of Arkansans testing positive for COVID-19 variants has more than doubled.
“They’re becoming more prevalent in our ability to isolate them and find them,” Romero said. “And this is only the tip of the iceberg because we’re only sequencing a very, very small minority of the number of people that are sick.”
Cases of the U.K. variant have increased threefold in the state. The U.K. variant is more transmissible and is associated with more mortality and morbidity. In states where this is already a problem, Romero said health officials are seeing more children being hospitalized and with severe disease.
“We need to bring this under control,” he said. “The more people that are unimmunized, the more there is a chance for this virus to spread and to continue to mutate.”
Arkansans have access to three COVID-19 vaccines including the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced could again be administered in the state yesterday. The Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention paused distribution of this vaccine earlier this month because of a rare and severe type of blood clot.
A CDC advisory committee met last week and examined the safety of the vaccine. A total of 15 cases of a clotting disorder with low platelets was identified and the panel determined the benefits of using the vaccine far outweigh the risks, Romero said. While these instances of clotting are rare, Dr. Romero said alternative vaccines will be offered at sites administering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine for Arkansans who don’t want to take the risk.
“I encourage you all to get vaccinated with whatever vaccine you feel comfortable with, but please take advantage of that,” he said.
As of Monday, Arkansas had 358,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 288,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 70,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. White House officials also told Governor Asa Hutchinson to expect another shipment of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine this week.
While vaccine supply is not a problem for the state, Hutchinson said vaccine hesitancy is. As new cases and hospitalizations have remained steady, Hutchinson said the threat of infection does not feel imminent so the urgency of getting vaccinated has been diminished. Hutchinson called on employers to be leaders in the state’s vaccination effort by providing education on the importance of immunization. Employers should also provide access by organizing on-site clinics or offering time off for vaccination appointments, he said.
The governor is also challenging the Arkansas Department of Health to make sure the vaccine is accessible for harder to reach populations. Vaccines should be made available at places like malls and schools, Hutchinson said.
“We all need to pull together to increase these numbers,” he said.
More than 707,000 Arkansans have been fully vaccinated, according to the Arkansas Department of Health’s latest report. Information about vaccination clinics in your area can be found on ADH’s website.