Arkansas officials working to boost vaccine rates, hope to ‘get ahead’ of rise in variants

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 606 views 

With a “worrisome point” worth watching being a recent rise in hospitalizations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday (April 20) said state officials’ focus is to increase COVID-19 vaccine demand to avoid the “jeopardy” of cases rising again later this year.

COVID-related hospitalizations totaled 177 in Tuesday’s report, up 13 from the previous 24 hours, and up from the 148 on the previous Tuesday. The governor called the number of hospitalizations a “worrisome point” that he and other state officials are monitoring.

“It’s just a reminder that we do have the virus in our community,” Gov. Hutchinson said of the recent rise in hospitalizations, adding later he is “very anxious to get the J&J vaccine back in use” to make it more convenient to boost vaccine rates in rural parts of the state and other tough to reach demographics.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on April 13 called for a halt to using the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine because six people reported a serious blood clot issue a few weeks after receiving the vaccine. At the time, more than 6.85 million of the J&J vaccines had been administered. None of the six cases were in Arkansas.

Gov. Hutchinson also said he is worried about the lack of demand for the COVID vaccine, noting that the state continues to fall behind the national average. As of Tuesday, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) reported that 27.5% of those age 18 and older were fully vaccinated, compared with 33% nationwide. Arkansas reported 14.2% age 18 and older who are partially immunized, with that being 50.7% nationwide.

ADH data also showed that of the 27.5% who are fully immunized, 52.5% of those are age 65 and older, with just 20.1% being in the larger 18-84 demographic. Gov. Hutchinson said state officials “are concentrating on the younger generation,” working to reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase demand for the ample supply of vaccines in the state. He said getting to 50%-60% fully vaccinated will be a challenge.

“It’s just going to take some hard work. Whenever you get up to 50%, 60%, we’re going to have to be going out where the people are and make it as convenient as possible for them. So it will just continue that effort long-term. We will get there. It’s just going to take a little while with that kind of intensive effort,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said another reason to boost vaccine rates is the rise in COVID cases from variants. He said there was a 70% increase in the UK variant identified from the previous week, which has a 30% higher transmissibility rate. He said the increase is “just the tip of the iceberg” because the state is not testing all new COVID cases for variants. He said younger age groups are being hit by the variant-induced COVID cases with the cases being more severe.

“Now is the time to vaccinate. We have to get ahead of this. If we don’t, we can and will have significant transmission of new cases here,” Romero said.

COVID REPORT – April 20
New known COVID-19 cases, active cases, tests
• Total confirmed and probable cases: 333,709, up 198
• Total confirmed and probable active cases: 1,804, up 15
• Total confirmed and probable deaths: 5,706, up 7

Hospitalizations
177, up 13

Ventilators
24, up 2

As of Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., there were 31,753,960 U.S. cases and 567,966 deaths. Globally, there were 142,304,499 cases and 3,034,321 deaths.

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