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Vaccine reaches more in Northwest Arkansas

by Alex Golden | January 23, 2021 at 7:37 a.m.
Khristan Yran, with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Northwest College of Pharmacy, draws doses inside the gym. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

Northwest Arkansas residents 70 and older and educators received covid-19 vaccines throughout the week, and more mass vaccination clinics are planned.

School and day care employees and people 70 and older, who are in the state’s Phase 1-B for vaccine distribution, became eligible to receive the vaccine Monday.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses weeks apart.

Washington Regional Medical System had given 2,935 first doses and 1,777 second doses to people in Phase 1-A as of the end of Thursday, according to Natalie Hardin, spokeswoman for the system. The system also had vaccinated 583 people in Phase 1-B. Health care workers are in Phase 1-A.

“We are placing weekly orders with the Arkansas Department of Health and are typically requesting more doses than the state has inventory to fulfill. We remain optimistic that there will be a shoring up of the supply chain and increased speed in the vaccine production that will allow increased supply to pharmacies, hospitals and clinics in our community in the coming weeks,” Hardin said.

Mercy Health System vaccinated more than 1,000 people in 1-B this week, according to Jennifer Cook, spokeswoman. Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas has more than 2,600 employees, and Mercy has vaccinated more than half of its employees.

Cook previously said Mercy would like to schedule weekend mass vaccination events.

“Mercy is proactively contacting 1-B patients to schedule appointments as vaccine becomes available. After exhausting our initial supply, Mercy did not receive additional vaccine this week, so no weekend vaccination clinic is scheduled,” Cook wrote in an email Friday.

A representative for Northwest Health, which has five hospitals in the region, did not respond to questions concerning how many people the system vaccinated recently. Northwest Health gave more than 3,300 doses to people in Phase 1-A as of Jan. 8, according to Christina Bull, spokeswoman.

However, a Facebook post from Northwest Health on Wednesday stated, “At this time, Northwest Health does not have any first dose vaccines available as the vaccination supply is limited in our region. We are asking for the community’s patience and asking for patience from those eligible to receive the vaccine as we work with the federal and state government to acquire more vaccines in our region.”

School districts in the region began vaccinating their faculty and staff this week, although they did not receive as many doses as expected.

Springdale vaccinated about 1,350 employees Wednesday and Thursday on-site. Rogers vaccinated about 250 employees Thursday, and Bentonville planned to vaccinate about 500 employees Friday on-site.

Fayetteville Public Schools has not hosted on-site vaccination events. Alan Wilbourn, spokesman for the district, said Friday that 300 employees were to be vaccinated at drive-through clinics at Washington Regional by the end of the day. Another 500 employees plan to be vaccinated through Washington Regional next week.

“We also have an arrangement with Medical Arts Pharmacy for the vaccinations. Those are by appointment, and we estimate that 300 of our staff members either have or will receive their vaccinations there,” he wrote in an email Friday.

Springdale, Bentonville and Rogers school districts had the three highest active covid-19 case numbers of all school districts in the state as of Thursday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Springdale had 157 active cases, while Bentonville had 129 and Rogers had 126. The Fayetteville school district had the eighth-highest number with 59 active cases. The data includes staff, faculty and students. Active cases are those that have not recovered or died.

The University of Arkansas began vaccinating employees this week and plans to vaccinate 1,000 employees today at Razorback Stadium.

Several local pharmacies are offering vaccines to people 70 and older and school employees. Some have appointments booked out through February. Exactly how many vaccines have been given in the region is unclear because the Health Department has only provided statewide data. A spokeswoman said Friday the department is working on making county-level vaccine distribution data available.

Across the state, more than 186,000 doses had been given as of Friday, according to the Health Department. The data includes first and second doses.

Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas and Community Clinic, which both have health clinics throughout the region, have requested the vaccines but have not been told if or when they will receive doses, representatives from the organizations said.

Covid-19 cases in Northwest Arkansas increased about 2,300 in the past week, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

Washington County had 26,552 cumulative cases Friday, compared to 25,360 on Jan. 15. The county had 1,793 active cases Friday including 1,235 confirmed and 558 probable cases.

Benton County had 23,882 cumulative cases Friday compared to 22,744 on Jan. 15. The county had 1,719 active cases Friday including 1,188 confirmed and 531 probable cases.

Hospitals in Northwest Arkansas had a combined total of 108 patients in their covid-19 units as of Thursday, according to a joint statement from the region’s largest health care organizations via Martine Pollard, spokeswoman for Mercy Health System. The region’s record for most covid-19 patients at one time was 140 on Jan. 8.

Both antigen tests and polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests are used to test for covid-19. Antigen tests produce faster results, are generally only used on people with symptoms of the virus and have a higher chance of giving false-negative results. Antigen and most PCR tests are done via nasal swabs.

A total of 170,284 PCR tests and 16,973 antigen tests have been done on Benton County residents, while 184,818 PCR tests and 31,044 antigen tests have been done on Washington County residents, according to the Health Department.

Fast fact

Groups of residents in Phase 1-B who aren’t 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. The state has estimated those groups will be able to begin getting the vaccine in February.

Phase 1-C, which the state expects to be able to begin receiving vaccines in April, includes people age 65-69, people age 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.

Source: Arkansas Department of Health

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