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Arkansas health official says she's pleased with pediatric COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Arkansas PBS
Arkansas Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said since a vaccine for children was approved last week, she has been pleased with the number that have been administered so far.

A week after children between the ages of 5 and 11 started being vaccinated for COVID-19, Arkansas is still seeing delays in the distribution process. But Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, chief medical officer for state Department of Health, says the number of kids who have been vaccinated so far is remarkably high.

In an interview with KUAR News on Wednesday, she said additional locations in the state are expected to receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week which will increase the number of children who are able to receive the vaccine.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

KUAR’s ALEXANDRIA BROWN: How is the process going so far?

DR. JENNIFER DILLAHA: Well, we're really pleased with how it's going. We're using a new system, so we had some wrinkles in the beginning, but now we've gotten the vaccine out there. We've gotten it out to most of the providers that traditionally give childhood vaccinations around Arkansas. And now we're able to get even more providers who would like to give the vaccine to children but have not traditionally given vaccines to them. So, as the vaccine rolls in this week with our new order for this week, they'll also be getting the vaccine.

So far, what health facilities carry it? Is it just ones affiliated with the Department of Health or is it other local health facilities?

Well, we do have the vaccine available at all of the Arkansas Department of Health local health units in every county. We have 94 local health units in the 75 counties around the state, but also they're available through most providers of childhood vaccinations, such as pediatrician offices or family medical offices. They often carry vaccines with the Vaccines for Children program, which is a special federal program that provides free vaccines to low income children. So, they got their doses last week so that they could provide vaccines to kids 5 through 11. And then we have pharmacies around the state who are providing the vaccine to these kids. And soon there may be school-based clinics that the local school districts are partnering with the Arkansas Department of Health local health units or local pharmacies to provide the vaccine on-site to kids at school.

So, how has the turnout been for the number of kids receiving a vaccine dose?

Well, the turnout has been pretty good. We have about 271,000 kids in this age range, the 5 through 11-year-olds, and we have well over 100,000 doses in the state to provide to these kids. The demand has been pretty steady and we're watching the numbers. It takes a few days for the vaccinators to report their doses that they've administered. So we'll have a better idea later this week about how the demand has gone. But we've been fairly pleased with the number of kids getting vaccinated and the requests for the vaccine.

And just to clarify, you said the state has a lot of pediatric vaccine doses. I talked to a doctor from Arkansas Children's Hospital and she said that while the state does have a lot of vaccine doses, it's the rollout process that's kind of difficult. So is it more so the distribution process that takes it a long time for the facilities to receive them?

Well, it's not overnight. Going as planned, we recognized that it would take us about two weeks to get the vaccine out. This is the second week and we're making good progress. The first week, the orders that we could place, the minimum order was 300 doses, and it's not possible to send that to most clinics because they can't use that many doses. So, we have to take them to a central hub and break the boxes down so that we can provide fewer vials to the clinics that need them. And that is the process that has taken time — getting the request for the number of doses that clinics want, getting those shipments into Arkansas and then breaking them down and redistributing them so that clinics can have the right number of doses for the number of patients that they serve.

Has the state heard of any bad reactions to kids getting the vaccine? I know it was said that they are monitoring it, so have you heard anything so far?

I have not heard anything about any allergic reactions that we watched for in the beginning, the first initial day. But then we're mindful that in older children, 12 and older, there have been reports of myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart. It appears to occur less frequently in the 5 through 11 years of age for other causes. So, we want parents to be aware of it so they can monitor for symptoms. But it's still very rare and we are not expecting many cases at all of myocarditis in that age group.

Alexandria Brown is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News. She was previously a Douthit scholar who interned for KUAR News. Alexandria will graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2022 in hopes of being a multimedia reporter.