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Slowdown in coronavirus vaccine demand in Arkansas, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | April 27, 2021 at 10:41 a.m.
Camille Wilson (left), a registered for CHI St. Vincent, gives Francisca Diaz (right) of Little Rock her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as Jhonnixy Solis, a volunteer translator, watches Friday, April 23, 2021 at Little Rock Southwest High School. The clinic, hosted by the City of Little Rock, CHI St. Vincent, the Mexican Consulate and the Little Rock School District, focused on the Spanish-speaking members of the community, but was open to anyone eligible to receive the vaccine. Another vaccine clinic will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 1 at Southwest Community Center. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/424vaccine/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

Demand for coronavirus vaccines in Arkansas has dropped in the last few weeks, leading pharmacies to reduce or halt orders for initial doses and leaving state and public health officials trying to figure out ways to persuade people to get their shots.

(Anyone 16 or older is eligible to receive the vaccine. Go here to see our vaccine tracker, including a map of locations administering doses.)

How many people have been vaccinated so far?

State officials said Saturday a little more than 40% of those eligible have received at least one dose, and figures released Monday by the state said about 1,003,000 people have been partially or fully vaccinated so far.

Nationally, Arkansas is ranked near the bottom in terms of percentage of the population vaccinated, according to data that is tracked by The New York Times.

How has demand for the shots changed?

Each week, the state is allocated a number of doses and it can order some or all of them to be delivered to providers.

State epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said this week Arkansas will order less than half the allocated amount.

Pharmacists and other providers have reported difficulty filling appointments and have leftover doses from past weeks, so much so that 17 counties ordered no first doses for this week.

The counties include Craighead, the state's seventh-largest, and Miller, the 16th-largest. Second doses will arrive for those who have already had one shot.

Why is demand lower?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said hesitancy is a factor.

National surveys indicate the highest resistance to vaccines in states such as Arkansas exists in rural, predominantly conservative, white communities, though hesitancy also cuts across demographic lines.

Experts say convincing young healthy people who don’t fear severe illness from the virus to get their shots can also be a challenge.

"One thing I wish we were able to do early on was to help people have a more realistic picture of the illness of covid-19," Dillaha said. "It is possible to have long-term effects of the illness, even for people who just had mild disease, including younger people."

What are state officials doing to keep vaccines rolling out?

The Health Department is reaching out to independent doctors' offices to provide information about vaccines and to offer supplies of vaccines to clinics willing to administer them.

The department is also embarking on a two-year, $7 million media campaign, part of which showcases testimonials from Arkansans -- farmers, senior citizens, college football coaches -- on the importance of getting vaccinated.

Read more about how vaccine hesitancy is affecting Arkansas from reporter Lara Farrar, and read more on how many doses are expected this week in various counties from reporter Andy Davis.

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