Officials hope the change will eliminate confusion and increase access to the shot.
Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 booster shots are now available to all Arkansans 18 and older who received the second dose of the vaccine at least six months ago. Previously these boosters were only available to adults 65 and older, and people 18 and older who live in a long-term care facility, have underlying health conditions or work or live in high-risk settings.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the policy change during a press conference this afternoon saying officials are seeing a need for making the COVID-19 booster shot more widely available.
“I think it’ll eliminate some confusion and it will also encourage everyone across the board that meets this criteria to go get the booster shot,” Hutchinson said. “That’s the best protection from the virus and from serious health consequences.”
Officials have notified the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the state’s updated policy for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because it differs from the CDC’s recommendations. The recommendations for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will remain the same — Arkansans 18 and older who received their first dose at least two months ago can receive a booster shot.
After six straight days of an increase of active cases, the Arkansas Department of Health today reported active cases decreased by 351. Cases are starting to trend upward and officials are concerned about the number of cases being seen within the 5 to 11 age group, as well as younger children for whom a vaccine has not been approved, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said. To date, 4.2 percent of children 5 to 11 and 51.2 percent of adolescents 12 to 18 have been immunized.
A Conway school reported an outbreak in cases last week and those cases continue to increase. The overwhelming majority of cases are in students and officials are observing transmission within the school, something they did not see last year. This is a product of not immunizing children and relaxing masking requirements, Romero said. Although there is no requirement, COVID-19 vaccines and wearing masks are two ways parents can protect children, he said.
“This is not a benign disease, this is not as mild as the flu as people are giving the misinformation to say,” Romero said. “This can have very significant consequences, hospitalizations and deaths including longer-term complications like the inflammatory disease that these children have and possibly the long COVID that’s been described for adults.”
Active cases in the state’s public schools dipped below 900 Nov. 1, but that number increased to nearly 1,200 Nov. 11. The Arkansas Department of Health is expected to release an updated report later today, but these numbers are reason enough to continue with caution, Education Secretary Johnny Key said.
“We want schools to continue to use good judgment, we want parents to continue to use good judgment,” Key said. “We want to take all the precautions that we can.”
More information about COVID-19 vaccines is available on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website. You can also receive assistance scheduling an appointment by calling a statewide call center at 1-800-803-7847.