The Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care is a key partner with business and health leaders in trying to ramp up Arkansas vaccine deployment against COVID-19. CEO Ray Hanley said Arkansas and other southern states are a puzzling mix of hesitancy.
Arkansas has fully vaccinated 18.3% of its population, according to a New York Times COVID-19 vaccine tracker. That’s only better than three other Southern states – Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee – which are among the least successful states in the country for COVID-19 vaccine rates.
Some states that are comparable to Arkansas are doing much better with vaccine rates. Alaska, which has a small, rural population has fully vaccinated 26.6% of its residents. West Virginia, which mirrors many of Arkansas’ demographics, is also performing well with their execution strategy with 23.8% having received the vaccine.
New Mexico leads the U.S. with 28.8% fully vaccinated with South Dakota a close second at 27.5%.
Hanley says the data is hard to decipher.
“With Arkansas, a lot of the South, I can’t begin to explain,” he said. “If you look across the spectrum and some of the polling, you see some of the patterns here. Obviously, the hesitancy is higher in the South. Southerners are least likely to want to get vaccinated. The Northeast is the most likely.”
Hanley noted that in a recent survey 50% of Republican men said they didn’t plan to get vaccinated, while 90% of Democratic men said they would. White evangelicals are also less likely to wanted to get vaccinated, according to the survey Hanley cited. He also said that Blacks and Hispanics are also reluctant.
“If you try to analyze some of the reasons, knowing that the vaccines are key, how are we going to get beyond this? We have to get to herd immunity,” Hanley said.
Herd immunity is considered somewhere above 70% of the total population being fully vaccinated.
He said there is much misinformation driving some of the vaccine hesitancy in the general public – everything from unproven side effects to conspiracy theories that microchips will be implanted in people through vaccines.
Hanley said if former President Donald Trump would cut a PSA promoting vaccines, it could be helpful in reaching some reluctant audiences in the South. Grasstops leaders in the evangelical, Black and Latino populations could also help push vaccinations with groups that are less likely.
He also said that there is growing evidence that COVID-19 vaccines may become an annual affair, like flu shots.
“It’s very probable that just as you get an annual flu shot recommended, you’re going to need to get an annual COVID shot. I think that’s certainly a distinct possibility,” he said. “The discussion about it only lasting six months is fairly raised and that’s only popped up in the last week or so. I think more is going to need to be determined about that. The vaccines have been proven safe and effective – 90 to 95% effective – which is outstanding in any medicine if you can get that kind of effective rate.”
You can watch Hanley’s full interview in the video below.