LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday outlined the procedure for COVID-19 vaccination efforts and a hopeful timeline for who will get shots and when.
Hutchinson said the state is currently in Phase 1-A of administering vaccines. Individuals in that group include high priority healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents and other high priority groups.
The governor said the main difference between the state’s prioritization and that of the Centers for Disease Control is that EMS and fire and law enforcement officers who serve as first responders are on the 1-A list. They had initially been among CDC recommendations, but were later removed.
“We believe that they ought to stay in 1-A because they are putting themselves at risk,” Hutchinson said. “They are our first responders and our initial planning included our first responders in 1-A.”
There are 180,000 Arkansans in that 1-A category and the state hopes to have all of them vaccinated by the end of January.
“So, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re focused on that.”
The hopeful timeline the governor included starting on individuals in Phase 1-B beginning in February. That includes people who are 70 and older, as well as frontline essential workers, such as:
• Teachers and school staff.
• Food and agricultural workers.
• Fire fighters/police not in 1-A.
• Manufacturing workers.
• Grocery store workers.
• Public transit workers.
• Child care workers.
• U.S. Postal Service workers.
• Essential government workers (including legislators).
The original list included people 75 or older, but the state modified that to lower the age to 70.
“That is the population that is at risk in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said, adding that it was the general consensus of health experts across the state.
State officials hope to have completed the estimated 400,000 Arkansans on that list within 60 days of beginning.
The Phase 1-C category includes people who are 65-69 years old, people 16-64 years of age with high risk medical conditions and essential workers like:
• Transportation and logistics.
• Water and wastewater.
• Food service.
• Shelter and housing.
• Public safety.
• IT and communications.
• Public health workers not covered in 1-B.
The reason for prioritization of individuals is because there is a limited supply of doses of the vaccine available. Some modifications of the 1-B and 1-C lists cold be made depending on the supply chain, as well as the level of acceptance for people in the categories.
For instance, Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said UAMS employee were polled to see how many of the would accept the virus. He said that of the 4,000 who responded, those with the best information possible regarding safety of the vaccine, some 30% said they didn’t trust it and wouldn’t accept it.
The governor said most people want to know when they will get vaccinated and how.
He explained that hospitals and participating pharmacies are establishing clinics to vaccinate people in Phase 1-A.
Pharmacies and hospitals (after healthcare workers are vaccinated), as staff is available, will also continue helping in Phase 1-B and 1-C, along with workers from local health units. Officials from the Department of Military and Arkansas Department of Emergency Management will work with those groups is setting up logistics for creating teams to push forward with the effort.
Exact details of the plan will be posted on the state’s website by Jan. 15 so everyone can see where they stand in the line of succession for vaccination.