Governor: ‘Reality is the best incentive’ to improve vaccination rates

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 747 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday (June 29) in his weekly press conference at the state capitol that financial gimmicks have “not been effective in incentivizing people to get the vaccine,” but he said, “reality is the best incentive.”

Sharing stark numbers and ominous warnings of a worsening COVID-19 situation in the state, Hutchinson and other health leaders said getting vaccinated is the safest and most promising way to avoid a pending crisis.

“Everyone knows exactly what needs to be done,” Hutchinson said while touting the protection success of COVID vaccinations. “I don’t think there’s anything else that government can do.”

Dr. Cam Patterson, UAMS chancellor, noted that hospitals across the state are seeing younger and sicker patients due to the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

“We are now going in the wrong direction yet again with COVID-19 patients here in Arkansas,” Patterson said. “We may be at the beginning of the third surge of COVID-19 here in Arkansas.”

Over the last 24 hours, Arkansas has identified 479 new confirmed and probable cases. There has been an increase of 196 active cases and eight new deaths since yesterday.

Patterson said one reason why younger people – in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s – are becoming sick is they are not getting vaccinated, while older citizens have been more inclined to get the vaccine.

Patterson warned that presently about 25% of COVID cases in Arkansas are a form of the Delta variant strain, which is 70% more contagious than variants circulating a year ago. He said he expects Delta variant COVID cases to make up over 50% of cases quickly.

“This is not a case of losing smell and feeling like you have the flu,” Patterson said, noting that many patients are going straight to heart-lung bypass machines in order to stabilize them.

When asked about skepticism regarding the vaccine, Patterson noted there are 300 people in hospitals today for COVID-19 versus zero cases in the hospital due to receiving the vaccine.

Hutchinson shared three key statistics that he said should be sobering for those who are not vaccinated.

  • 90.5% of current active cases are not fully immunized
  • Of the 3,765 people who have been hospitalized, 98.3% have not been immunized
  • Of the 988 Arkansas deaths since January, 99.6% were not immunized

“That should be an incentive,” Hutchinson reiterated.

Arkansas stands at a 39% vaccination rate among its entire population. Among those over the age of 18, 52.4% have been vaccinated. Among the eligible population of those age 12 and older, 48.9% have had a least one shot.

Three of the top five counties in the state with the highest vaccination rates are also the three largest counties in Arkansas: Washington (47.1%), Pulaski (46.7%) and Benton (46.5%).

In response to questions, Hutchinson said he did not have plans to declare another pandemic emergency.

“The strategy is set… People know what they need to do,” he said.

The state’s fiscal year ends on Wednesday (June 30) and Hutchinson said he has asked finance officials to adjust the budget forecast.

Hutchinson did not disclose how large a state surplus might be, but he said he is authorizing $86.6 million to be released into the state’s Medicaid Trust Fund. He said it would give it a balance of more than $600 million.

He also said that the state’s long-term reserve fund will end the fiscal year with a $1.22 billion balance, which equates to about 20.9% of the general revenue budget.

The governor said he turned down a request from Texas and Arizona for loaning Arkansas State Police personnel to help with what Hutchinson called “a worsening border situation” along the U.S.-Mexico border. Hutchinson said it was more important to keep those resources at home.

“Because of the safety needs we have in Arkansas and because of the important work they have here, I will not be sending the Arkansas State Police to the border,” he said, though he is “evaluating” a National Guard contingent request from the two states. (UPDATE: Hutchinson authorized a 90-day deployment for up to 40 National Guardsmen a few hours after his press conference.)

Finally, when asked about the state government of California blocking personnel from attending conferences and meetings in Arkansas and other states that have passed legislation negatively affecting the LGBTQ community, Hutchinson said “you have to shrug your shoulders at California.”

He said he has not seen signs of any economic fallout from the controversial legislative measures passed earlier this year.

“It becomes only punitive to California when they restrict their participation” in other states. “I’m not worried about it at all,” he said.

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