In another sign of waning demand for coronavirus vaccines from eligible Arkansans, the head of the Arkansas Pharmacists Association said Thursday that a pharmacy group is considering reducing the amount of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech that it orders next week.
Association CEO John Vinson said members of the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network have seen strong demand for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but less for Pfizer's, which requires two shots spaced three weeks apart.
He said the difference is in part because of misinformation and fears about the Pfizer vaccine, which uses a different technology from Johnson & Johnson's.
The pharmacy network "had a board call this morning, and they were not sure they would be able to fill out their appointments for their 14,000 Pfizer doses that they get every week," Vinson said Thursday.
Also on Thursday, the state's count of coronavirus cases rose by 334 -- the first daily increase in eight days that was larger than the one on the same day a week earlier.
After falling for the previous seven days, the number of people hospitalized with covid-19 in Arkansas rose by nine, to 181.
The state death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by 11, to 5,571.
In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson highlighted the more than 1 million vaccine doses, including second doses, that have been administered in Arkansas through state and federal programs.
"Today's report shows an increase of over 127,000 vaccine doses administered since last week and a single-day increase of nearly 29,000," Hutchinson said.
"I encourage everyone to get vaccinated when it's your turn to protect our friends and neighbors."
Pharmacies in the network receive vaccine doses through the federal retail pharmacy program, which is separate from the state vaccination effort, but they follow the state rules on eligibility.
For next week, Vinson said, the pharmacies were allotted 14,040 Pfizer doses, the same amount they received this week. Their allocation of Johnson & Johnson doses will increase from the 1,000 they received this week to 4,000.
The pharmacies will place their order for next week's shipments Monday, Vinson said.
He said pharmacies across the state have held vaccination clinics at some work sites where only 20% to 30% of employees showed up.
He reiterated that pharmacists are ready for the state to make all Arkansans 16 and older eligible.
"It would remove one more barrier of education," Vinson said.
"It would just simplify the process, and it would clarify to anybody and everybody over 16 that not only are they eligible, they need to be vaccinated."
The start of Phase 1-C of the state's vaccination plan last week made the vaccines available to people 16-64 with health conditions putting them at risk of severe illness from the virus and to certain types of "essential workers," including those with jobs in food service, transportation, the media and other industries.
The phase also includes prison and jail inmates and others living in "high-risk" settings, such as student housing and group homes.
Others who became eligible under previous phases include people 65 and older, health care workers, residents of long-term-care facilities and frontline essential workers, such as those in factories and grocery stores.
In addition to the lack of demand, Vinson said the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network members' efforts are hindered by federal rules preventing some stores from receiving doses.
The affected stores initially signed up to participate in the federal program in partnership with a wholesaler, he said.
Although the stores aren't getting vaccine doses through that avenue, they aren't being allowed to change the terms of their participation in the federal program so that they could receive doses through the network, he said.
Hutchinson said Tuesday that it's too early to make the shots available to all adults because people are still having difficulty getting appointments in some areas, including Northwest Arkansas.
State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha has said the state will increase the amount of vaccine going to Northwest Arkansas next week.
Health Department records indicate providers in Benton County will get at least 10,730 initial Pfizer and Moderna doses, up from 7,220 this week, and 5,500 Johnson & Johnson doses after not getting any of that vaccine this week.
Washington County providers were listed as getting 2,270 initial Pfizer and Moderna doses, down from the 3,740 they received this week.
The number of Johnson & Johnson doses going to that county was set to increase by 200, to 500.
Dillaha said Thursday that 5,000 of the vaccine doses the state receives next week will be used for mass vaccination events being organized by the Northwest Arkansas Council, a business group, targeting Hispanic and Marshallese people.
An additional 3,510 doses will go to Sebastian County to vaccinate workers in "priority industries," she said.
The number of independent medical clinics around the state receiving doses will increase by 10, to 41.
The state also will increase the number of the Health Department's local health units receiving Johnson & Johnson shots from four to 17.
Sign-ups at the units' mass vaccination clinics have varied, Dillaha said.
"Clinics that we've been working with, say, in the Northwest region, we've had the appointments fill up pretty quickly," Dillaha said.
"Other clinics in other areas, they haven't been filling up quite as quickly."
According to the Health Department, providers participating in the vaccination effort coordinated by the state had received 1,567,660vaccine doses as of Thursday, up 38,340 from the total a day earlier.
The doses those providers reported having administered, including second shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines' two-dose regimens, rose by 25,165, to 918,490.
In addition, Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and network pharmacies had been allotted 246,480 doses through federal programs, up 15,900 from the total a day earlier.
The doses those businesses reported having administered rose by 3,793, to 111,887.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Arkansans who had received at least one vaccine dose rose Thursday by 16,370, to 710,494, representing about 23.5% of the state's population.
The number who had been fully vaccinated rose by 9,321, to 366,664, or about 12.2% of the state's population.
Among the states and the District of Columbia, Arkansas continued to rank 42nd in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one dose and 46th in the percentage who had been fully vaccinated.
Nationally, 26.3% of people had received at least one vaccine dose, and 14.3% had been fully vaccinated.
President Joe Biden's administration announced Thursday that federally funded community health centers across the country next month will receive $6 billion from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, signed by Biden earlier this month, that they can spend on covid-19 vaccinations and testing, preventative and primary care for people at higher risk of covid-19, improving their physical infrastructure and adding mobile units.
Arkansas' 12 centers will get a total of $47 million, with the largest amount, $11.4 million, going to Augusta-based ARcare.
The money also includes $9.2 million for Community Clinic in Springdale; $4 million for East Arkansas Family Health Center in West Memphis; $3.6 million for 1st Choice Healthcare in Corning; $3.5 million for River Valley Primary Care Services in Ratcliff, $3.4 million for Boston Mountain Rural Health Center in Marshall; $3.1 million for Mainline Health Systems in Portland; $2.7 million for Healthy Connections in Mena, $2.1 million for Jefferson Comprehensive Care system in Pine Bluff; $2.1 million for Cabun Rural Health Services in Hampton; $1.1 million for Lee County Cooperative Clinic in Marianna; and $991,250 for Mid-Delta Health Systems in Clarendon.
According to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the amounts varied based on each center's number of patients and uninsured patients.
"This is an investment to really expand the access to covid-19 vaccines and really build vaccine confidence in some of the hardest-hit communities," said LaShannon Spencer, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas.
"We still have a huge hesitancy when it comes to covid-19 vaccine."
ACTIVE CASES FALL
Thursday's increase in cases was larger, by more than 100, than the one a day earlier and was 70 cases bigger than the one the previous Thursday, March 18.
After dropping below 200 on Wednesday for the first time since May, the average number of cases added to the state's tally each day over a rolling seven-day period rose Thursday to 209.
Dillaha said the increases in cases and hospitalized virus patients were "a little bit worrisome."
"I'm interested to see if that becomes a trend or not," she said.
Despite the increase in hospitalized patients, the number of virus patients who were on ventilators fell by five, to 38, after rising a day earlier.
The number of virus patients who were in intensive care rose by five, to 79.
The cases that were added to the state's tally included 258 that were confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests.
The other 76 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests.
The state's cumulative count of cases rose to 329,511.
That comprised 258,775 confirmed cases and 70,736 probable ones.
The number of cases that were considered active fell by 33, to 2,095.
Washington County had the largest number of new cases, 59, followed by Arkansas County, which had 37, Pulaski County, which had 30, Garland County, which had 28, and Sebastian County, which had 25.
Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department's count of cases rose by 10.
The state death toll rose by six, to 4,448, among confirmed cases and by five, to 1,123, among probable cases.
Among nursing home and assisted-living facility residents, the state's count of virus deaths rose by one, to 2,057.
The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 grew by 24, to 15,268.
The number of state virus patients who have ever been on a ventilator rose by one, to 1,573.