Arkansas Health Officials Fight Against Racial Inequity In Vaccine Distribution

Michelle Smith, director of the Arkansas Department of Health Office of Health Equity and HIV Elimination, discussed vaccine distribution in minority communities Tuesday.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas health officials are focused on boosting vaccine numbers ahead of any rise in COVID-19 variants, getting more vaccines to minority groups, and overcoming vaccine “resistance,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday (April 6) during his weekly COVID briefing.

“We have to overcome resistance. We have to overcome the challenges of a rural state,” the governor said.

Arkansas has received 1,881,900 vaccines since Dec. 14, including 58,020 in the previous 24 hours. Of that, 1,276,675 doses have been administered, or 67.8% of vaccines received, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). The department also reports 357,280 Arkansans are partially immunized and 477,857 are fully immunized.

The ADH numbers also show that of doses administered, 77.5% are among white Arkansans, 10.3% black, 1.1% Asians, and 0.2% Pacific Islanders.

“It shows we have to work to overcome historic reservation and concerns about vaccination in the minority community. And that’s why I appreciate the work of our minority health commission as well as our chief equity officer that works on this,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

Michelle Smith, director of the Arkansas Department of Health Office of Health Equity and HIV Elimination, said the department is working with numerous groups who can “foster community relationships, address hesitancy, and encourage vaccine participation” in minority groups and rural areas. She said “health equity strike teams” began in January to “ensure special populations have equal access to vaccine distribution sites.” The teams targeted counties with low vaccination rates and have administered more than 12,000 vaccines. Smith said the April goal is to administer 8,000 vaccines, with 50% or more among minority groups.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said state officials are beginning to see rising numbers of those not getting the second dose. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a second dose. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose.

“Even if you miss your window, you can call the 1-800 number (1-800-985-6030) and we can tell you where to go to get that second dose. It’s very important that you become fully immunized with the vaccine,” Romero said.

Gov. Hutchinson, when asked about the response to his March 30 lifting of the statewide mask mandate, said he is impressed that most are still wearing the mask and some business owners are still requiring masks.

“I’ve been very pleased with the response and the responsibility that everyone has demonstrated since the statewide (mask) mandate was lifted,” he said.

He also said he opposes the idea of a state-mandated vaccine passport, preferring instead to let the private sector choose to determine requirements they place on customers.

“I think you have to give latitude to the private sector. As a government? No. The state is not going to be requiring mandating vaccinations,” Gov. Hutchinson said.

COVID REPORT – April 6
New known COVID-19 cases, active cases, tests
• Total confirmed and probable cases: 331,261, up 163
• Total confirmed and probable active cases: 1,602, down 5
• Total confirmed and probable deaths: 5,653, up 5

Hospitalizations
152, up 7

Ventilators
26, up 3

As of Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., there were 30,828,216 U.S. cases and 556,185 deaths. Globally, there were 132,119,304 cases and 2,865,677 deaths.