Arkansas will get its second round of shipments of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine next week -- two weeks earlier than state officials were initially told, officials said Friday.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state will get 3,400 doses.
State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said the following week's allocation will probably be about the same.
"Then after that, we're told to expect steep increases," she said.
In addition, members of the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network expect to receive 1,000 Johnson & Johnson doses as part of the federal retail pharmacy program, said John Vinson, CEO of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association.
The news came as signs emerged of waning demand for the shots in some areas of the state -- despite the extension of eligibility this week to more front-line workers, as well as people with developmental disabilities, under Phase 1-B of the state's vaccination plan.
In Jonesboro, a shortage of appointments caused St. Bernards Healthcare to offer the shots to walk-in patients at its clinic near the system's hospital.
At community vaccination events in Batesville and Mountain View, the White River Health System also allowed walk-ins but still ended up with leftover doses.
"Even with opening up the rest of 1-B, I still think in some areas, they're ready to move to 1-C," Vinson said of the state's pharmacies.
"In others, they've still probably got another week of full clinics."
Meanwhile, Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose Friday by 459 -- the fourth daily increase in a row that was smaller than the one a week earlier.
The number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 and in intensive care units as of 2 p.m. Friday both fell for the fourth straight day, while the number who were on ventilators fell for a second day.
The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by 27, to 5,437.
"Today's report shows the continued trend of lower new cases, active cases, and hospitalizations from the prior week," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.
"We have seen an increase of nearly 110,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses in the past week, and we anticipate this number to continue to climb."
SUPPLY TO INCREASE
In addition to the Johnson & Johnson doses, Arkansas' vaccine program was allotted enough of the Moderna vaccine and the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to provide initial doses next week to 68,680 people, an increase of 2,340 doses over what the state received this week.
Also, the amount of initial Pfizer doses going to the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network members through the federal program is expected to increase by 2,340, to 14,040.
Walmart is also expected to receive 9,100 Moderna doses and 1,170 Pfizer doses through the federal program.
The state program received its first shipments containing 24,400 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week.
State officials initially didn't expect to receive more of that vaccine until the week of March 28.
"The only thing that I can surmise is, I was on a call today, and the comment was that this [White House] administration is not holding back vaccine at different points that the previous administration was," Dillaha said.
She said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a good option for work sites because it requires only one dose and doesn't have to be kept frozen or diluted before use.
Also, federal officials announced this week that five more community health centers in Arkansas -- ARcare in Augusta, Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna, Jefferson Comprehensive Care System in Pine Bluff, Mainline Health Systems in Dermott and East Arkansas Family Health Center in West Memphis -- were selected to receive vaccine shipments.
A group representing the state's health centers said it hasn't been determined when those five will start receiving doses or how many they will receive.
Springdale-based Community Clinic was the first health center in the state to receive vaccine doses under the initiative.
Community Health Centers of Arkansas said in a news release that Community Clinic began administering doses last week.
At St. Bernards, "We were doing our best to get our appointments filled, but we had some additional openings, so we were able to offer walk-ins during certain hours," spokesman Mitchell Nail said Friday.
He said the health system administered more than 1,400 initial vaccine doses this week, including about 300 that went to people during walk-in hours the system added on Thursday and Friday mornings.
Nail said the option removed a barrier for people whose work hours might make scheduling an appointment difficult.
He said he took a call from one farmer, who didn't have an appointment, who asked if he could come with another person who did to get his shot.
"I was like, 'Absolutely,'" Nail said.
The White River Health System initially advertised its clinics on Facebook as being "by appointment only," then said it would accept walk-ins "while supplies last."
As it turned out, the health system administered just 224 of the 250 initial Moderna doses it had allocated for the clinic Thursday at the Batesville Community Center.
It used 35 of the 50 doses it had planned for the Mountain View Senior Center on Friday.
Health system spokeswoman Michele Wood said the remaining doses from the Batesville event will be used at a similar event there next week.
She said the health system would try to use the remaining doses from the Mountain View event for people who had made appointments but later canceled.
On the other hand, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences gave initial doses to 286 people on Friday at Shorter College in North Little Rock, exceeding its target of 200, spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said.
It will hold a similar appointment-only clinic Tuesday at the Marvin Vinson Center in Clarksville.
At walk-up clinics Friday, the Health Department administered 506 doses at a church in Little Rock, 290 at Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville, 230 at a civic center in Fordyce and 199 at a similar facility in Marianna.
Dillaha said she's heard reports that "different areas of the state have demand, and in other areas of the state, they are not having demand."
"It's hard for me to know at this point how much of it is because people have concerns about the vaccine and how much of it has to do with lack of access to the information about vaccines or the ability to go and get them," Dillaha said.
Many people who became eligible for the vaccines this week will get their shots at clinics that are being scheduled at work sites, rather than at pharmacies or community vaccination events, she said.
She said state officials have been discussing "how soon we would like to move to Phase 1-C," when the shots would be available to more types of workers and to people with health conditions placing them at greater risk of complications from covid-19.
According to the state's vaccine plan, an estimated 424,817 people are included in the phase.
"Based on some of the reports we're receiving from some areas of the state, I would say we're not quite ready yet," Dillaha said. "We need to make sure that certain areas get covered better than they are now, so we'll reassess this next week and see what that looks like and make a determination about how we want to proceed."
The Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, which is following a separate plan, announced Friday that it is offering the vaccine to all enrolled veterans.
The Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System made a similar announcement Tuesday.
According to the Health Department, providers participating in the vaccination effort coordinated by the state had received 1,217,310 doses as of Friday morning, up 8,010 from the total a day earlier.
The doses those providers reported having administered, including booster shots, rose by 18,815, to 743,791.
In addition, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network pharmacies had been allotted 165,020 doses through federal programs, up by 12,870 from the total a day earlier.
The doses those providers reported having administered rose by 7,788, to 72,606.
The total includes 28,752 administered by Walgreens, 25,770 by Walmart, 11,104 by the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network pharmacies and 6,980 by CVS.
According to the CDC, the number of Arkansans who had received at least one vaccine dose rose by 27,380, to 541,936, or about 18% of the state's population.
The number who were fully vaccinated, meaning they had received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, rose by 11,382, to 297,193, or 9.9% of the state's population.
Arkansas continued to rank 45th among the states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one dose.
It rose from 43rd to 42nd in the percentage of its residents who had been fully vaccinated.
ACTIVE CASES RISE
The increase in cases added to the state's tallies Friday was larger than the one the day before but more than 100 cases smaller than the increase the previous Friday.
Over a rolling seven-day period, the average number of cases added to the state's tallies each day fell by 16, to 310.
Meanwhile, the state's death toll surpassed the level it was at before the Health Department subtracted 173 deaths from the total as part of a "data clean-up" on Feb. 28.
Dillaha said 16 of the deaths reported Friday happened in early to mid February, and the rest occurred within the past month.
The number who were hospitalized with covid-19 fell by 19, to 259, its lowest level since June 23.
The number who were on ventilators fell by three, to 64, while the number in intensive care fell by nine, to 118.
The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state topped 15,000 as it rose by 12, to 15,009.
The cases added Friday included 345 that were confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests.
The other 114 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests.
The state's cumulative count of cases rose to 326,499.
That comprised 256,864 confirmed cases and 69,635 probable ones.
The number of cases that were considered active rose by 14, to 3,158, as 418 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.
Pulaski County had the largest number of new cases, 59, followed by Benton County, which had 52, Garland County, which had 36, Faulkner County, which had 33, and Washington County, which had 32.
Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department's count of cases rose by seven.
Among nursing home and assisted-living facility residents, the count of virus deaths rose by three, to 2,015.
The number of state virus patients who have ever been on a ventilator rose by four to 1,546.