Arkansas’ COVID-19 vaccine rollout has expanded to all Phase 1B eligible vaccine recipients, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced at a special news conference at the State Capitol on Monday.
The decision to expand the vaccine rollout came after the state noticed lowered demand for coronavirus vaccines at Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) sponsored vaccine clinics, the governor said, adding that the state has more than enough vaccines coming into Arkansas from the federal government to handle the additional 180,000 people now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The seven new population groups of Arkansans now eligible to receive a vaccine include essential government workers, grocery store and meal delivery employees, postal service workers, public transit staff, preachers and other staff at houses of worship and manufacturing workers. All previously eligible Phase 1A and 1B vaccine recipients remain able to receive a vaccine.
Due to the governor’s announcement, state legislators previously unable to receive a vaccine are now able, as well as essential judiciary workers. Last week, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an opinion which ordered the state immediately make vaccines available to judges, prosecutors and other court employees who directly interact with the public. While the governor previously disagreed with the court’s ruling and declined to follow its guidance, Monday’s announcement makes the order moot.
The governor also announced the addition of another population group to Phase 1B eligible vaccine recipients: Arkansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The governor said the state decided to make the vaccine available to this group, who were previously listed in Phase 1C of the ADH’s vaccine rollout plan, because many in the group have already received a vaccine by way of Arkansas’ efforts to administer vaccines to long-term care facility patients. The governor described the addition of the new group into Phase 1B as a “clean-up” of the state’s rollout plan.
In his comments at Monday’s press briefing, Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said he remains confident the state will finish rolling out vaccines to the Phase 1B population by the end of March, and encouraged Arkansans currently enrolled on multiple vaccine lists to remove their names from all but one. The difficulty in tracking down eligible vaccine recipients to receive a vaccine, Romero said, has slowed down rollout of the state’s vaccine administration plan.
In a final piece of news from Monday’s briefing, Arkansas now has a toll-free hotline available to its citizens to schedule vaccine appointments through the ADH and its health equity clinics. The number, 1-800-985-6030, is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Thirty call takers are available to assist Arkansans with scheduling appointments and finding pharmacies which offer vaccines. To schedule appointments through pharmacies and other non-ADH clinics, eligible recipients will still have to directly communicate with those pharmacies and health clinics.