State officials are launching community conversations to combat vaccine hesitancy.
The Arkansas Department of Health reported COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 55 on July 6. That’s the largest single-day increase since January when vaccines were first being administered in the state.
During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state is losing ground in the fight against the virus. The Delta variant, which accounts for about 50 percent of cases nationally, is contributing to the spread of the coronavirus in Arkansas where the vaccination rate is lower than the national average.
“While we have 1 million fully vaccinated in Arkansas, that is not high enough to prevent more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths,” Hutchinson said.
To combat vaccine hesitancy, the governor announced the creation of a series of statewide community discussions about the COVID-19 vaccine. At each session, panels of health care and community leaders will be on hand to listen and answer questions. The first conversation is at 6 p.m. at the Veterans Park Event Center in Cabot.
“The goal is of course to engage our communities at the local level and say what can we do more to overcome hesitancy, to satisfy the questions of the community and to encourage vaccinations,” Hutchinson said.
The governor is also urging employers to be leaders in the push for vaccination efforts by increasing access to the vaccine in the workplace and providing paid time off for workers to get vaccinated.
One reason people are hesitant to get the vaccine is concern over the loss of income if workers take time off to recuperate from vaccine side effects. Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, said there is federal funding to support taking time off. There is a provision in the American Rescue Plan that provides for a full tax credit for the cost associated with paid time off for any employer with fewer than 500 employees, which is about 90 percent of employers in Arkansas, Zook said.
“We’re urging all our employers all across the state to really weigh in on this and provide the leadership that we need from you to get this job done,” he said.
The Delta variant is 30 to 50 times more transmissible than the Alpha variant, the first variant detected after the original strain of the virus, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said. Because of how quickly the variant is spreading, it’s important to get vaccinated now to prevent severe disease as well as to protect those who cannot get vaccinated like children.
“The Delta variant is penetrating into our childhood population. We cannot vaccinate our children at this point because we do not have a vaccine for them,” Romero said. “The only way to protect them is to protect them by immunizing yourself and having a cocoon around them that doesn’t allow the virus to reach them.”
More information about scheduling a vaccination appointment is available at the Arkansas Department of Health’s website or by calling 1-800-985-6030.