Less than 3% of Ark. population has received COVID-19 vaccine

Updated: Jan. 11, 2021 at 10:27 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Weeks after many healthcare providers received the first doses of the vaccine, Arkansas remains in phase 1-A of administering the shot.

According to the Arkansas Dept. of Health, over 84,000 Arkansans have received the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s less than 3 percent of the state’s population.

Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State, says the reason for the slow rollout nationwide is a bit complicated.

“It’s not as easy as just having the vaccine and just saying ‘Okay, let’s open up the doors and have people vaccinated,’” he said.

Speights added the state was in the same boat when the pandemic started when it dealt with limited tests and personal protective equipment.

“Because we’re a small state, we may ask for 50,000 doses of the vaccine and we get 3,000,” he said.

According to the ADH, Arkansas has received just over 200,000 doses of the vaccine.

Nationwide, the CDC says over 25 million doses have been distributed. At this point, just under 9 million people have been vaccinated, less than half of the COVID vaccine supply.

The CDC also has Arkansas listed with over 250,000 vaccines distributed with over 40,000 administered, which the ADH says is inaccurate.

“Our data shows that we have administered more than 84,000 doses of vaccine as of this morning,” ADH Medical Director for Immunizations Dr. Jennifer Dillaha told Region 8 News in an email Monday. “It may very well be higher knowing that we have a lag in dose reporting.”

Speights said with the new strand of COVID-19 starting to spread across the nation, the time to act is now.

“You can’t waste a single dose,” Speights said. “We need as many people vaccinated in this country, and certainly here in the state of Arkansas, as we can get in the coming months.”

St. Bernards Healthcare President Chris Barber says part of the slow rollout has been due to a lack of communication.

“Individuals don’t know what their actual allocation will be of the vaccine before the week starts,” Barber said. “Folks are having to coordinate once they get allotment during that so there’s probably a little delay in the communication process there.”

St. Bernards has administered over 5,800 vaccinations since getting the vaccine. Barber says just the fact there is a vaccine out is great news.

“We’ve been playing defense with this pandemic since the beginning,” he said. “Now we have some tools to be on the offensive side of it. We did appropriate planning in play so that’s gone fairly smoothly on that aspect of it.”

Speights echoed those statements, saying the hospitals should be applauded for the amount of planning they did in such a short period of time.

“It’s just hard to plan when you’ve got a delicate vaccine. It has to be managed in a specific amount of time. It’s got to be diluted, all these things have to go on,” Speights said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to know how many people are going to show up to get this vaccine.”

Speights added that more can be done to hasten the vaccine’s distribution. He says while leaning on hospitals and pharmacies to distribute the vaccine was a great idea, the capacity is there to ramp up vaccinations.

“We’re using our hospitals -- I think we can use them more -- and I think we can bump it up and do some even larger, mass-scale, some mass vaccination attempts that can be done to target specific populations,” Speights said. “I think you’re going to see all of those things in play in the coming weeks.”

Even though he says more can be done to get vaccines out, Speights credits the state for the work they’ve done so far.

“In terms of the federal government, I think there could’ve been a better, absolute rollout plan,” he said. “They gave some guidance to the states, at the end of the day, the states were making their own decisions. I think we’re doing great work here. We’re getting a lot of vaccines, I know it may not look like it right now on the website, but I think you’re going to see that number increase significantly over the coming weeks.”

He says the slow rollout is not from a lack of effort, while Dillaha says they are working on getting the vaccine out as quickly as possible.

“We are working closely with vaccine providers to make the distribution of vaccine to counties of the state as equitable as possible,” Dillaha said. “We are also working with vaccine providers to improve efficiency and timeliness of reporting vaccine doses. We are doing everything we can to administer vaccines as quickly as possible... we are looking forward to expanding the priority groups as we receive additional supply.”

Dillaha says the number of shots administered will increase in the coming weeks.

“We expect within the next week, we will see the proportion of people vaccinated increase,” she said. “However, we don’t expect to see a steep increase in the number of persons vaccinated until the dose allocation in Arkansas increases.”

The ADH says there isn’t a timeline for when the general public can get their hands on a COVID vaccine, but the transition to “Phase 1-B” is expected to happen in February. Both NEA Baptist and St. Bernards tell Region 8 News that they are ready to proceed to the next phase.

But as for when the general public receives the vaccine, that is still to be determined.

“We don’t have a timeline for when Phase 2 is to begin,” Dillaha said. “Dates are subject to change depending on vaccine availability and uptake. We are preparing to make an updated written plan for COVID-19 vaccination available by the end of this week. This will describe what this process will look like.”

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