Another 180,000 Arkansans are newly eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines as the state fully opens up Phase 1B of its vaccination schedule.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the change Monday, which adds manufacturing workers, transit workers, including ride share and meal delivery drivers, essential government employees, and workers at grocery and other big box stores to the list of those eligible for the vaccine in the state.
"We’ll move through them fairly quickly, but you have to be patient because you can clog the system quickly. And so we should be on target to get through all of these vaccinations in 1B by my goal, which is the end of March. But it might be a week, it might be two weeks before you actually get this scheduled, so be patient," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the state will also allow people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to receive the vaccine. They were originally included in Phase 1C of the vaccination plan.
Col. Robert Ator, Arkansas’ vaccine distribution program manager, says the change was possible due in part to the state receiving a shipment of 24,400 doses of the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
"We got a lot more vaccine than we were truly expecting. But the state will not see any follow-up vaccine for the next two weeks. So what we plan to do with it, how it’s going to be used this week, is we’re turning it to our food processing [workers] that [were] identified last week," Ator said.
The governor said the state is also rolling out a statewide vaccination appointment system designed to work alongside existing systems in place at pharmacies. That will be accessible through a hotline, open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., by calling 1-800-985-6030.