Vaccine Eligibility Expanded to Arkansans 12-15 Years Old

Parents can call the statewide vaccine hotline to make an appointment.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at press conference
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announces an eligibility expansion for the Pfizer vaccine during a press conference May 11, 2021.

Arkansans 12 to 15 years of age can now receive the Pfizer COVID-19, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced at his weekly press briefing yesterday. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization for the vaccine Monday. A CDC advisory committee chaired by Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. José Romero meets today and is expected to provide further guidance on vaccinating children.

“Many will wait until we get the CDC final guidance, but you can call and make the appointment anticipating that that guidance will be forthcoming and there will be some that will be ready to give that very quickly,” Hutchinson said.

Col. Robert Ator manages the logistics of vaccine distribution in Arkansas and said he expected the Pfizer vaccine to be in every county in the state by the end of day yesterday and in about 375 locations by the end of the week. 

Officials are hoping for CDC guidance by Thursday so distribution plans can be made. Ator has spoken with different school districts and said he’s happy to talk to those interested in hosting onsite vaccine clinics. They’re also considering partnering sports teams hosting summer camps as well. 

“Everything’s on the table. We want to make sure that every Arkansan has an opportunity to get a vaccine,” Ator said.

Gov. Hutchinson also announced he was signing an executive order to create the American Rescue Plan Steering Committee. The 14-member group includes eight cabinet officials or designees, as well as six Arkansas legislators — three from the Senate and three from the House. The committee is tasked with deciding how to spend the funding the state will receive as part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan. 

About $5 billion will come to Arkansas in various forms that include funding for educational institutions, cities and counties, and to the Department of Human Services through rental assistance or other humanitarian assistance. 

The state itself will receive $1.57 billion and there’s a lot of flexibility in how the funding can be spent, Hutchinson said. For example, it’s allowed to be used for capital investments as well as investments in infrastructure with the Arkansas Department of Health to help prepare for a future pandemic.

“This is such a unique time that it’s important that we proceed through this in a planned fashion,” he said.

The committee is being chaired by Secretary of Finance and Administration Larry Walther. Arkansas will receive the first half of the funding in the near future, the second half will be distributed in the next year or two. While some states will receive all of their funding at once, Gov. Hutchinson said Arkansas is receiving its funding in installments because the state’s economy has bounced back more quickly than others. 

The funding doesn’t sunset until Dec. 31, 2024 so officials won’t have to rush in making decisions about how to spend the money as was the case with CARES Act funding, Walther said. 

“So we have time to study it, to do it right, and I’ll assure you that that will be my objective — to make sure that we do it right and it benefits the state of Arkansas and the citizens of Arkansas,” Walther said.

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. May 19.

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.