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School, health care workers to be vaccinated

by Alex Golden | January 17, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
A vial of covid-19 vaccine is used Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, to vaccinate medical staff at the Northwest Health in Springdale. Frontline medical staff began receiving the vaccine. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

Northwest Arkansas schools are preparing to begin vaccinating their employees against covid-19 this week, and health care organizations are working on plans to distribute vaccines to more people as the shots become available.

Staff and residents of long-term care facilities, health care workers and some first responders, all who were the state's first priority and made up Phase 1-A of the vaccine distribution plan, have been receiving the vaccine over the past month.

The state planned to begin Phase 1-B in February, but the top two groups in that phase may start receiving the vaccine Monday. Residents in those two groups include K-12, higher education and child care employees and all residents 70 years and older.

Schools

K-12 public schools in Benton and Washington counties have about 12,000 employees. The University of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Community College and John Brown University have about 6,000 employees.

Springdale Public Schools employees can sign up for appointments on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to get vaccinations through Community Pharmacy, according to an email sent to employees. The district has 2,952 employees.

Bentonville Public Schools plans to offer vaccinations for its faculty and staff Thursday and Friday at schools, according to Leslee Wright, spokeswoman for the district. The district has 2,364 employees.

Fayetteville Public Schools advised staff that vaccines are available to them at Walgreens, CVS, Collier Drug and Medical Arts Pharmacy. The district has 1,463 employees.

Rogers Public Schools employees are responding to a survey indicating whether they would like the vaccine, according to Ashley Siwiec, spokeswoman.

"Based on those results, they will either have a clinic set up at their school or at the pharmacy to receive the vaccine starting next week," she wrote in an email. The district has 2,063 employees.

Northwest Arkansas Community College is not hosting an on-site vaccination event, according to an email sent to employees. The email provided employees with a list of pharmacies where they can get the vaccine and stated they should bring their school identification. The college has more than 800 employees.

The University of Arkansas, which has about 4,700 employees, is planning a vaccination event Jan. 23 that will be by appointment.

About 7,900 people work at day care centers in Benton and Washington counties, according to Marci Manley, spokeswoman at Arkansas Department of Human Services.

Hospitals, clinics and pharmacies

Hospitals and independent pharmacies plan to start vaccinating education workers and people 70 and older Monday.

Natalie Hardin, spokeswoman for Washington Regional Medical System, wrote in an email Thursday the system expected to finish vaccinating people in Phase 1-A by Friday. Washington Regional plans to begin vaccinating the first two groups of people in Phase 1-B on Monday.

"We are working in a coordinated manner with community pharmacies and other Northwest Arkansas health care systems to specifically target school districts, day care workers and patients age 70 and older who have established relationships with our physicians and providers to conduct large scale vaccine distributions," according to Hardin. "We plan to expand vaccination efforts to other Phase 1-B populations as state health guidance dictates."

Washington Regional has given more than 4,300 vaccines total, including approximately 3,000 first doses to Washington Regional staff and health care providers in affiliated clinics and first responders, according to Cynthia Crowder, spokeswoman. The vaccine requires two doses.

Mercy Health System plans to schedule weekend vaccination events at three of its clinics including Mercy Clinic Springdale just south of Elm Springs Road, Mercy Clinic Highway 102 on Southeast 14th Street in Bentonville and Mercy Clinic Bella Vista, according to Jennifer Cook, spokeswoman for Mercy. Mercy does not plan to accept walk-in patients for vaccinations.

"Mercy is in the process of contacting eligible patients to schedule vaccinations, focusing first on 1-B patients identified as being at highest risk for severe illness and complications from covid-19. We believe channeling patients to these three clinic locations will ensure Mercy can distribute vaccine quickly as it is made available," according to Cook.

Mercy has completed vaccinations for more than half of its employees and other workers. Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers employs more than 2,600 people.

Mercy has given a first dose to nearly 850 first responders and health care workers who are not employed by Mercy.

Northwest Health, which has five hospitals in the region, did not respond to questions Friday.

The Arkansas Department of Health does not yet have a timeline for when it will begin offering covid-19 vaccines at its local county health units, said Danyelle McNeill, spokeswoman for the department.

Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas, or MANA, has completed the application to receive the covid-19 vaccine but has not heard if or when it will receive any vaccine, according to Paula Maxwell, chief operating officer. MANA, which has several clinics throughout the region, is not scheduling appointments for the vaccine.

Likewise, Community Clinic, which has several clinics throughout the region, has applied to receive the vaccine but has not been told if or when it will receive vaccines and, if so, how many doses it will recieve, said Judd Semingson, chief executive officer.

"We anticipate that we should receive vaccines in the very near future," he said Thursday. He estimated Community Clinic will receive a shipment in seven to 10 days. The clinics are not keeping a wait list of people who want to receive the vaccine.

Hospitals and clinics said they plan to offer vaccines to people in phases 1-B and 1-C when the vaccine becomes more widely available.

Other groups of residents in phase 1-B who are not yet be eligible to receive the vaccine include food and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, public transportation workers, U.S. Postal Service workers and essential government workers.

Phase 1-C includes people ages 65-69, people ages 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions and people who work in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing, information technology, communications, energy, media, public safety and public health.

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Fast fact

The covid-19 vaccine is free to patients. However, private health care providers may charge a fee for administering the fee and bill insurace.

Source: Arkansas Department of Health

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Dave Perozek contributed to this report.

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