Healthcare workers, emergency medical personnel, police officers, and residents and staff of nursing homes are in phase 1-A of the Covid-19 vaccination schedule underway in Arkansas. But getting permission for nursing home residents to be vaccinated has slowed the process, and some healthcare workers have refused the shot because of concerns about potential side effects or other reasons.
Eureka Springs Hospital initially inoculated 26 employees out of 65. Some additional shots received by the hospital were offered to emergency medical technicians. Now more ESH employees have reportedly expressed interest in getting vaccinated. Mercy Hospital in Berryville reported a high percentage of its staff willing to be vaccinated, with about 90 of 125 employees reportedly getting the vaccine.
Carroll County resident Crystal Ursin said the low vaccination rate in Arkansas is a concern. As of Jan. 12, only 44 percent of the Pfizer vaccine and 32 percent of the Moderna had been administered.
“At the rate that we are administering vaccines in Arkansas, it’s going to take years to get everybody vaccinated,” Ursin said. “Carroll County’s percent positivity test rate is at 18 percent, which is much better than it was a couple of weeks ago when it was at 21 percent, but it’s still extremely high. The CDC recommends that percent positivity be under 10 percent in order to be safe. Otherwise, too many people are getting infected and infecting others before they know they’re contagious.”
Ursin said Carroll County’s new case count has continued to be high the past couple of weeks. In the past two weeks, the county has had more days with new cases in the 20s and 30s than days with fewer than 10.
“And we have had three more deaths in the past week, we’re now at thirty-three registered deaths,” Ursin said.
On Jan. 11 the number of people in Arkansas hospitalized with Covid-19, as well as the number of Covid patients in intensive care units and on ventilators, reached new highs although the daily tally in new cases was 1,268, far lower than it is has been in recent weeks. State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha, MD, said those could probably be attributed to decreased testing over the weekend.
Dillaha said everything possible is being done to administer vaccines quickly, and that the state is learning as they go how to be more efficient. She said more doses of both vaccines are expected soon and the state expects to move into phase 1-B by Feb. 1, if not earlier. Phase 1-B includes individuals 70 or older, school personnel and frontline essential workers.
Danyelle McNeill, spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health, estimates the state will transition to phase 1-B in February and 1-C in April. Phase 1-C will include adults with chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk for negative outcomes from Covid-19, people over 65 regardless of health status, and workers in shelter and housing workers, transportation, water and wastewater, energy, public safety, public health, media, and food service.
Phase 1 will be followed by Phase 2, which includes the general population.
“At this time, we don’t have a timeline for when Phase 2 is to begin,” McNeill said. “Dates are subject to change depending on vaccine availability and uptake.”
In Arkansas, Walmart and 18 other pharmacies have agreed to help provide vaccinations.