This week marks an incredible milestone in our fight against COVID-19 as every adult in America is now eligible for a vaccine. During my “Shots in ARms” tour this month I’ve had the chance to see how the vaccine rollout is progressing in our state, what challenges we still face and what I need to be doing in the U.S. Senate to help. I learned that we have made and continue taking many great steps forward, but we also have a long way to go.
Overall, it was exciting to see how things have changed for the better in the last few months. In August, I visited hospitals and health care workers across the state in the throes of COVID-19. Now, I see the results of their determination, hard work and hope. Thanks to their efforts, more than 20 percent of our state’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Although there is now an open invitation to get a vaccine, there are still roadblocks to the effort. We must provide the opportunity to be vaccinated to all eligible people and fight false information that threatens to prolong this health crisis.
During a meeting with Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero, I learned how state officials are working to vaccinate patients at locations convenient to them. With our state’s distinct geography and dispersed population, the solution looks different in every community.
Fortunately, determined Arkansans are finding a way. In Pine Bluff, I met a Walmart pharmacist who walks through the store at the end of the day to find customers interested in a vaccine. He has been known to convince shoppers at the deli counter to get a shot on their way out of the store. In downtown Little Rock, Governor Asa Hutchinson joined me at the Rock Region Metro transit station where bus drivers and passengers lined up to get their shot to make public transportation safer in the city.
I also met inspiring health care workers at Department of Veterans Affairs clinics who have worked weekends and holidays since December to make sure veterans get the life-saving vaccine. Likewise, I visited hospitals like Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock. This state-of-the-art medical facility built a 50-bed triage for COVID-19 patients last year, and now it hosts a streamlined vaccine clinic.
The challenge is different in our more rural areas. However, I left those counties encouraged by the tireless efforts of community and health care leaders. In fact, Newton County, one of our most rural counties, has one of the highest rates of vaccination.
I was especially heartened to learn about efforts in Izard County. That’s where I met the owner of Melbourne’s Corner Drug Store, the only pharmacy providing vaccines in the county. She bought the pharmacy in January 2020 and was immediately faced with the overwhelming task of meeting the medical needs of her community while keeping a small business alive during a pandemic. I’m pleased to report that she and the Corner Drug Store are doing just that.
Dr. Romero also outlined the second challenge we’re facing which is reaching Arkansans who are reluctant to get the vaccine. Unfortunately, some of this is due to false information and the mistaken impression that it is no longer needed.
I have heard from many Arkansans who don’t want the vaccine. Their reasoning differs, but my advice is always the same: talk to a health care professional that you trust. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will understand your health concerns and help you cut through rumors to make an informed decision.
The bottom line is we all want to return to work, church, seeing our friends and hugging our grandchildren. Our best chance is with this shot in the arm. It’s how we get back to normal.
Editor’s note: U.S. Senator John Boozman, R-Ark., is the state’s senior senator. He is an optometrist and co-founded a family eye care practice with his brother in Northwest Arkansas. The opinions expressed are those of the author.