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Vaccines going out in small ways now; state's new covid cases increase by 203

by Tess Vrbin | June 6, 2021 at 8:43 a.m.
Mia Hampton gets her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine from Jami De La Cruz, a senior nursing student at UALR, during UALR’s vaccine clinic put on by Don’s Pharmacy on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.

Ten people received Johnson & Johnson's single-shot covid-19 vaccinations Saturday at St. Joseph's Farm Stand in North Little Rock.

The shots were available for four hours as part of the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care's statewide effort to take vaccines to farmers markets, graduations and other community events, chief business officer Nathan Ray said.

"At small events like this, when you're working in the community, we consider giving even just a few [vaccinations] a success," Ray said. "You just never know. We've been at large graduations where we've given out several, and then sometimes there's just not as much [reception]."

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The farm stand is a weekly fundraiser for the St. Joseph Center of Arkansas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable farming and food production.

Executive director Sandy DeCoursey said the nonprofit was "so blessed" to be asked to hold a vaccination clinic, and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care might hold another one at the center in coming weeks.

"The St. Joseph Center's mission [is] to provide access to healthy foods and promote nutrition, so keeping your body safe is a good piece of that," DeCoursey said.

[VACCINE INFO: See the latest information on covid-19 vaccines in Arkansas » arkansasonline.com/vaccineinfo/]

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that Arkansans who receive vaccinations May 26 or later would each be eligible for their choice of a $20 scratch-off lottery ticket or two Game and Fish Commission gift certificates worth a total of $21.

Two of the first three vaccine recipients at the St. Joseph Center received winning tickets, Ray said. The Game and Fish Commission gift certificates were not available at the center.

Additionally, the Health Department on Saturday started giving away boxes of Girl Scout cookies, while supplies last, to people who receive shots at "health equity strike team" clinics. Clinics in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Camden had cookies available Saturday.

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State epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said providing a variety of incentives appears to be slowing the decline in vaccine demand that has been apparent for weeks.

"I think that it's helping the shot demand stay more stable," she said. "We were concerned it would continue to fall off, but we're still making progress."

The state administered 7,301 shots Saturday, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health. The department did not publish Friday's data, but 955 more shots were given Saturday than Thursday.

[Interactive Arkansas map not showing up above? Click here to see it: arkansasonline.com/arvirus]

On Saturday, the state recorded 203 new covid cases, 35 of which are active cases. The number of active cases increased for the fifth consecutive day, for a total of 1,781, but remaining below 2,000 for a full week is "very encouraging" after active cases exceeded 2,000 for several days in May, Dillaha said.

Hutchinson said in his daily Twitter statement on the Health Department data that less than 10% of children ages 12-15 have been vaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for use in this age group last month.

"Our efforts to beat this virus are working, but we need everyone to do their part and get the shot," Hutchinson tweeted.

On May 4, he set the goal of vaccinating 50% of Arkansans in the next 90 days. Dillaha said it is unclear whether the state will reach that milestone in that time period.

"I think it's possible we may meet the goal," Dillaha said. "I'm concerned we may not, but we'll give it our best effort to help people understand the importance of being vaccinated and making informed decisions. There's still a lot of misinformation out there, people have misconceptions about the vaccine, and I'm worried that people are making decisions not to be vaccinated based on wrong information."

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One anecdote she heard was someone's fear of contracting covid-19 from the vaccine and spreading it to other people. Dillaha emphasized that this is untrue and all three vaccines effectively prevent infection.

"There are very good studies now that show that people who get fully vaccinated have a reduced likelihood of getting even asymptomatic infections," Dillaha said.

Arkansas has seen 342,345 covid cases since March 2020, according to Health Department data.

Pulaski County saw the highest new cases Saturday with 36. Benton County had 18 new cases and Washington County had 15.

Sixteen people were hospitalized with covid Saturday, bringing the total to 194. Thirty-five of those patients are on ventilators, one fewer than Friday.

One person died of covid-19 Saturday, bringing the total to 5,846 Arkansans who have died of the illness.

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