Hutchinson expands vaccine eligibility again

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A week after opening the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all state residents in Category 1-B, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday announced that the list would be expanding again, this time to allow all Arkansans aged 16-64 with health conditions that increase their risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, along with essential workers in fields that include energy, finance, food service, law, and media, as well as those who live in high-risk settings, which include those who are incarcerated or detained; those living in group homes, congregate settings, or crowded housing; and student housing such as dorms and Greek housing.

Both expansions have come in the wake of decreasing demand for the vaccine across the state. Phase 1-C was originally scheduled to begin next month.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson

“Not everybody in 1-B has been vaccinated, but it is important to move to 1-C,” Hutchinson said Tuesday, “so that we can open up more and keep the demand coming for the vaccine to make sure there's not any gap and to give everyone the best opportunity to get the vaccine who wants one and who needs it. It's also important to go ahead and open it up to 1-C, because there has been some slowdown in parts of the state on the demand side, particularly in the rural parts of the state. In the urban parts of the state, you still have those that are trying to get on the waiting list.

“We want to move the state together.”

On March 8, Hutchinson expanded vaccination efforts to include all individuals remaining in Phase 1-B in addition to two categories from Phase 1-C, saying the decrease in demand became particularly noticeable after observing mass vaccination clinics in various parts of the state.

On Tuesday, Hutchinson said the decision to add 1-C ahead of schedule was prompted by a push from the White House to make everyone in the country eligible to receive a vaccine by May 1.

“They're increasing their production and they hope to have that supply increased in May,” Hutchinson said, “And this has encouraged the states to accelerate their opening up of the eligibility criteria in order to get to that goal by May 1.”

Tuesday’s expansion adds to the previous list of eligible residents, which included those aged 65 or older, government employees and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, food manufacturing workers, grocery store and meal delivery workers, postal and package delivery service employees, public transit workers, houses of worship and manufacturing workers.

Phase 1A, which included healthcare workers and most first responders, was completed in January.

On Tuesday, ADH data showed that the state has received a total of 1,409,240 doses of the various vaccines, of which 848,983 had already been administered, or 60.2 percent.

To date, 549,050 Arkansans — or approximately 23 percent of the state’s population aged 16 and older — had received at least one dose, and 299,885 Arkansans in that age bracket were fully immunized, a number representing approximately 12.6 percent of the target population.

According to some health experts, it is estimated that the immunity threshold for COVID-19 would require as much as 90 percent of the total population to be fully vaccinated or previously infected.

According to the World Health Organization, the percentage of people who need to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease. For example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95 percent of a population to be vaccinated, while influenza needs between 33 and 44 percent.

One additional death related to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic was reported in Carroll County since last week, bringing the local death toll to 44.

The new death comes in the wake of Hutchinson’s recent announcement that he would be easing many of the state’s public health mandates while extending his emergency declaration through March 31.

The number of new cases in the past seven days, meanwhile, fell drastically, with seven new cases reported by the Arkansas Department of Health on Tuesday, bringing the county’s total to 2,735, including 2,319 lab-confirmed cases. Also listed on the report were 2,676 “recoveries.” The ADH reports 15 active cases in the county.

Statewide, Tuesday’s numbers showed an increase of 2,109 in the past week, bringing the overall total to 327,060 on Tuesday, with 318,695 reported recoveries and 5,481 deaths, up 138 since the previous week, when 93 new deaths were reported.

The number of active cases of the novel coronavirus in the state on Tuesday stood at 2,863, down 730 cases since last week.

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