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Volunteering at Little Rock shots clinic honors lost loved ones

by Tess Vrbin | May 16, 2021 at 5:46 a.m.
Payton Jones (left), 12, supports her sister, Jada Jones, 14, as she gets her first dose of the Pfzier coronavirus vaccine Saturday, May 15, 2021 during a vaccination clinic at Dunbar Community Center in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Denese Fletcher was literally jumping for joy on the basketball court Saturday at the Dunbar Community Center as the three-hour covid-19 vaccination clinic there came to an end.

Fletcher and other coordinators of the clinic did not expect the nearly 100 people who showed up for the clinic, since only about 10 people signed up beforehand. The rest were walk-ins.

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

Twice, pharmacists had to get more doses from The Medicine Shoppe in Maumelle to meet demand, Fletcher said.

"I am completely in awe," she said. "I am so excited that I don't know what to do. I thought it was going to be so sad, but I'm not surprised, because my sister had that kind of impact on people."

[How is the coronavirus affecting you in Arkansas? Tell us here » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus/form/]

Fletcher's sister, Margaret Wilson, died of covid-19, and all of the nearly 50 volunteers and coordinators behind Saturday's clinic had lost loved ones to the virus. Fletcher called the event a "commemoration clinic," and wore a shirt and a mask with her sister's name on them.

She and her niece Lolita Griffin-Norwood said Wilson was a "beautiful spirit who took care of everyone" and did so without seeking recognition for it.

Some of the adults who received shots at the clinic had initially been reluctant to get vaccinated, Fletcher said, and had waited to see if others would have severe reactions to the shots.

"Watching an overwhelming number of people be OK changed their minds," Fletcher said.

She emphasized that the clinic was about "recognizing what covid did" and protecting people from losing their lives or loved ones.

"Covid has devastated our families, but it will not win," Fletcher said. "We will overcome it, and the vaccine is the first step. I tell people all the time who are so hesitant, 'look at what was going on last May. Look at how many people were dying.' Months after months after months, and then what happened? The vaccine came, and the numbers started going down. That's not a coincidence. That's reality."

Some adults requested the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine, but most attendees received their first doses of Pfizer, and only one person showed up for a second dose, Fletcher said. All Arkansans 12 and older are eligible for vaccines as of Wednesday, and the Pfizer vaccine is so far the only one authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for children 12 or older.

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

Several children in that age group received their first shots at the Dunbar clinic, Fletcher said, and the second doses will be available there on June 5.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported 11,606 shots administered statewide Saturday, the second-largest number since a week earlier. Friday's 15,339 shots were the most administered in almost two weeks, and the state had a seven-day rolling average of fewer than 9,500 doses per day beforehand.

"Any day over 10,000 [shots] to me is a good day," state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said Saturday.

Some pharmacies and health care providers have not yet received the doses of Pfizer vaccine they will administer to newly eligible children, Dillaha said, so she expects the number of shots administered to trend upward in the coming days.

In his daily Twitter statement about the state's covid numbers, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he has been asked why Arkansas' pace of vaccinations has been lagging behind other states.

"Since there are no mandates, it comes down to an individual choice [and] motivation," Hutchinson tweeted Saturday. "We're spending millions of dollars to encourage shots in arms. We've ample supply, [and] our providers are making it easy to get a shot."

The state's seven-day rolling average of positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antigen tests for covid-19 decreased slightly from a week earlier, when Dillaha and Hutchinson expressed concern that the positivity rate was increasing. Dillaha said she was pleased to see the rate decrease slightly from 5% on May 8 to 4.8% Saturday.

The Health Department reported 202 new covid-19 cases Saturday, down from 245 a week earlier and 250 Friday. Arkansas has had 338,687 cases since March 2020.

Pulaski County had the most new cases Saturday with 32. Benton County had 23 new cases and Lonoke County had nine.

There were 166 Arkansans hospitalized with covid-19 Saturday, a decrease of six from Friday, and 27 were on ventilators, four fewer than Friday.

Three people in Arkansas died of covid-19 Saturday, bringing the total to 5,793.

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