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Gov. Hutchinson: Arkansas ready to vaccinate 271,000 children ages 5-11

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking with reporters Tuesday about preparations for vaccinating children between the ages of 5 and 11.

When federal regulators green-light the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said doses formulated for the age group will be “immediately available” through Arkansas Department of Health units scattered around the state.

A panel advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to vote Tuesday to authorize the reduced Pfizer dose for the age group. Following that vote, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky could immediately approve emergency use authorization. If she does, it would mean vaccines are available for all U.S. citizens age 5 and older. Pfizer data on vaccine testing in the age group indicates it is almost 91% effective against symptomatic illness.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero estimated there are about 271,000 Arkansans – roughly 9% of the state’s population – in the 5-11 age group, and the state will have 110,000 doses available for the “first wave.” He said the initial doses should be “more than enough” for the initial demand.

The initial demand will be managed by the local health units, of which there is at least one in each of the state’s 75 counties. Following that, the doses will be available to providers enrolled in the state’s COVID vaccine program. Romero encouraged parents wanting more info about vaccine availability to call their local health unit or the state’s hotline at (800) 803-7847.

As some schools did with vaccines for the 12-18 age group, Gov. Hutchinson said schools may also have vaccine clinics for the 5-11 age group after the CDC issues guidance. The governor stressed that the state will not impose vaccine mandates for the age group.

“I expect that they (schools) will (have clinics). That’s their individual choice. … We expect that to happen and we encourage that to happen,” the governor said Tuesday during his weekly press briefing.

He also said 50% of those eligible in the 12-18 age group are either fully or partially vaccinated.

The ADH reported Tuesday 641 new COVID cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the cumulative total to 513,993. The number of active cases rose by 70 to 4,490 in the previous 24 hours. Deaths associated with COVID rose by 28 to 8,412. State data also showed 325 hospitalizations, down six, with ventilator use down one to 88. The ADH also reported 147 ICU beds in use by COVID patients, down from 149 on Monday.

Gov. Hutchinson also on Tuesday said he will travel to Israel for the Prime Minister’s Smart Mobility Summit set for Nov. 8-9. He is the only U.S. state governor listed as a speaker at an event touted to have more than 5,000 attendees from 60 countries. Gov. Hutchinson said he will also spend time at the event advocating for Arkansas’ aerospace defense industry, which is a large exporter within the state’s manufacturing sector.

The summit, which began in 2013, is “held every year and sets to join business leaders, innovators, top researchers, and policymakers from around the world for a global dialogue about the future of transportation,” according to the event website.