Governor Announces Goal to Vaccinate 50 Percent of Arkansans

Officials are working to administer at least one shot to half the state's population in 90 days.

COVID Update May 4
Health Secretary Dr. José Romero provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic May 4, 2021.

More than 1 million Arkansans or 34 percent of the state’s population have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. To reach Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s goal of increasing that number to 50 percent in the next three months, 467,206 more people need to get a shot.

For comparison, 40 to 50 percent of Arkansans typically receive a flu shot. That rose to nearly 55 percent last year, the highest vaccination rate for the flu shot, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. During his weekly briefing on the pandemic this afternoon, Hutchinson said setting a higher goal for COVID-19 vaccinations than the typical acceptance rate of the flu vaccine means it will be a difficult threshold to achieve. 

“It’s a challenge for us, it’s a far-reaching goal, but a very critical goal that helps us to really pinpoint what we need to do over the next 90 days,” he said.

To help increase vaccination numbers, health officials said they are going to meet Arkansans where they are by hosting pop up clinics around the state. Vaccinations will be distributed tonight at the Arkansas Travelers game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, Sunday at the Central Mall Food Court in Fort Smith and May 15 at the Arkansas Made – Arkansas Proud Market at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. 

May 13-26 guests at high school graduations at War Memorial Stadium can also access the COVID-19 vaccine. For attendees not quite ready for a shot, health officials will be on hand to answer any questions they may have about the vaccine. 

Health Secretary Dr. José Romero again stressed the importance of vaccination to limit the spread of COVID-19 variants. Cases involving the U.K. variant have continued to increase and now account for nearly 75 percent of variants in the state. This variant is highly transmissible and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, which is likely what’s driving the number of hospitalizations among young people in northern states, Romero said. More Arkansas children are contracting COVID-19 and while they cannot get the vaccine, their family can.

“One way to protect them is to form a cocoon around them by adults and adolescents receiving the vaccine, so again, please consider this when deciding whether to take the vaccine or not,” Romero said. 

Arkansas health officials are increasing the number of samples sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as they work to identify variants in the state. One of the variants officials are watching for is a variant from India. The country is experiencing a deadly second wave and reported more than 357,000 new cases and nearly 3,500 more deaths in the last day, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Biden Administration issued a proclamation Apr. 30 that suspends entry into the United States for nonimmigrants or noncitizens who’ve been in India during the previous two weeks. The ban is effective starting today. Gov. Hutchinson is asking anyone traveling back to Arkansas from India to quarantine in an effort to prevent the Indian variant from taking hold in the state.

“We have a great Indian population here and we value them tremendously, but if there is anyone who travels to and from India, we’re asking them and recommending that they quarantine for 14 days when they come back,” Hutchinson.  

Another concern for state health officials is an increase in hospitalizations. The Arkansas Department of Health has reported small daily increases over the last week, but today hospitalizations increased by 20 bringing the state’s total to 192. This uptick as well as increases in active cases and the overall rolling average of antigen and PCR positivity is worrisome, Romero said.

“We want to make sure that this does not continue because it would indicate that we have spread significant amounts of virus in the state,” he said.

Information about vaccination opportunities in your community is available on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website

 

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.