The rollout for covid-19 vaccinations for children ages 5-11 moved quicker Thursday after getting off to a slow start the previous day, a state Department of Health spokeswoman said.
All 92 of the state's local health units have received doses of the Pfizer vaccine for younger children -- despite only a fraction of the clinics having the pediatric vaccine doses late Wednesday after the rollout began.
Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said the second wave of vaccine shipments, 28,500 doses, arrived Thursday and was being redistributed to local clinics and pharmacies.
"It's going as expected," McNeill said. "Demand for the vaccine is currently high."
The child-size doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cleared two final hurdles Tuesday after being recommended for approval by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisers, then getting the go-ahead from the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
McNeill said 377 vaccinations were administered Wednesday to children in the 5-11 age group.
The data for that age group will eventually be available daily on the department's dashboard online, but there is no timeline on when it will begin to appear, McNeill said.
Arkansas began receiving its first shipment -- 38,100 kid-size doses -- earlier this week, all going directly to the Health Department's Little Rock headquarters and to 43 of the units.
Part of the second shipment received Thursday will be distributed to providers participating in the federal Vaccines for Children Program, which includes almost all of the state's pediatric clinics.
Meanwhile, another 40,000 doses are being delivered directly to Walmart stores and other providers participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.
The size of future shipments will depend upon demand.
"Clinics that will be giving the pediatric vaccine are asked to order based on how many doses they will need for two weeks," McNeill said.
Express Rx announced Thursday that its pharmacies in Cabot, Hot Springs, Little Rock and Sherwood are taking appointments and walk-ins to administer the pediatric vaccine.
"Express Rx continues to do our part to end this pandemic by offering recommended pediatric covid-19 vaccines as well as other routine immunizations," Eric Crumbaugh, Express Rx director of clinical business development, said. "Our accessible and knowledgeable pharmacists stand ready to address any questions or concerns."
Steve and Jen Shuler of Little Rock quickly secured a vaccination appointment for their 11-year-old daughter Avery at her pediatrician's office for Saturday.
Getting the appointment wasn't difficult, Steve Shuler said.
"I think the doctor's offices are trying to get people in and out quickly, so we got a small window just a couple of days out," he said.
Steve Shuler said he and his wife have had consistent discussions about covid-19 and the vaccine with their daughter since the pandemic began.
"She is well versed by now," he said. "Like any child, she has apprehension about getting a shot. But this is something we've been mentally preparing with her for over a year now. She's a little scared but very resolved."
Shuler counts the vaccine as "the single best way out" of the pandemic.
"Both for her as a person and for our society as a whole. Getting her vaccinated gives her mom and me peace of mind that she will have the best level of protection possible," he said. "And it contributes to bringing an end to the pandemic. We have a responsibility both to our own family and to our community, so this is immensely important to us."
Ashley Bhadra -- who lives in Cabot with her husband Shivaji Bhadra and four children -- said her 11-year-old son Kooper Mawhorr has been excitedly awaiting his turn to be vaccinated.
"He has been scared of getting covid. He said he would like to get it to help keep him and the rest of the family safe," she said. "Kooper is a very smart and caring child. He always wants to do the safest option. He doesn't like to take chances on something bad happening."
Bhadra was able to get a Thursday evening appointment for Kooper's shot at Walmart.
"I know it's a very personal decision, but I recommend everyone to be cautious and get their children vaccinated," Bhadra said. "You would rather vaccinate now than wish you did."
To date, the state has had 98,871 covid-19 cases in patients from newborn to 18 years old, according to Health Department data. Of that number, 913 required hospitalization, and 116 were admitted to the ICU.
The state has reported 4,198 cases in children under a year old; 11,273 cases in children 1-4 years old; 31,721 cases in children 5-11 years old; and 51,229 cases in children 12-18 years old.
About 96.4% of patients between 12-18 years old were unvaccinated. About 9.9% of the 12- to 18-year-old population in Arkansas are partially vaccinated while 40.9% are fully vaccinated.
On Thursday, the state had 1,153 current active cases among patients from newborn to 18 years old.
BY THE NUMBERS
The number of daily coronavirus cases in the state continued to drop Thursday as 428 new cases were added, down 118 from the previous day. The increase in cases a week ago was 517.
Total cases rose to 514,967. The state's first case was diagnosed in March 2020.
The number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 dipped by 23 to 308, while the number of virus patients who were on ventilators dropped by nine to 79.
There were 133 covid patients in the intensive care unit Thursday, 15 fewer than the day before.
"Our case numbers are again lower than last week, and our active cases have declined once again," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on social media Thursday afternoon. "We continue to work to get vaccines for ages 5-11 available across the state. I urge Arkansans to choose to get the COVID vaccine."
The number of cases in the state that were considered active fell by 17 to 4,479, meaning that more people have recovered from the disease than have been diagnosed with it.
The state's death toll from the virus since March 2020, as tracked by the Health Department, rose by 18 to 8,452.
The Arkansas Department of Health reported Thursday that there were 963 active covid-19 cases in the state's public schools Thursday, up 73 cases from the 890 active cases in schools reported by the state agency on Monday, and up 13 from the 950 cases reported Oct. 28, which was before the Halloween weekend.
The Health Department does not specify in the report the ages of the students who have covid.
Rogers School District had 61 active cases among students and staff, according to the Thursday report.
Fort Smith School District had 34 cases, and both Bentonville and Cabot had 33 active cases, followed by Pulaski County Special and Springdale school districts that each had 25 cases.
Springdale is the state's largest school district, followed by the Little Rock School District, which had six active cases in the Thursday report just as did the smaller districts of Jacksonville/North Pulaski, Alpena, Rose Bud and others.
Sixty of the state's traditional and charter school systems had five or more active cases among students and employees. That was up from 51 districts on Monday.
The state does not in its twice-a-week reports individually identify school systems in which there are fewer than five cases. That is in an effort to protect patient privacy.
Since Aug. 1, there have been 23,838 cumulative covid-19 cases among school district students and employees.
The state Health Department also reported Thursday that there were 34 active cases in the state's private elementary and secondary schools, down from the 40 cases reported Monday. Nine of the Thursday cases were reported from Harding Academy in Searcy and five were from Lee Academy in Marianna.
A total of 74 active cases were reported in colleges and universities on Thursday by the state agency. That was down from the 89 active cases reported earlier this week. The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville topped the Thursday report with 16 active cases; the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith had seven active cases and the University of Central Arkansas had five cases.
The number of vaccine doses that providers reported having administered, including second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, rose by 11,995 to 3,177,343.
The number of individuals fully immunized increased by 2,352, to a total of 1,405,036, or 54.9% of Arkansans 12 years old and up.
As of Thursday, 175,661 third vaccine doses had been administered.
Of the new cases reported Thursday, 86.6% involved unvaccinated people while 88.5% of those hospitalized had not received the shots. About 78.5% of the active cases and 86.6% of the deaths involved unvaccinated people.
The Health Department does not base its percentage vaccinated on the state's total population, but on the total population of those 12 and older, which the department said is 2,557,248.
There were 6,552 covid-19 tests reported Thursday, made up of 4,886 PCR and 1,666 antigen tests.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 5,299,050 tests have been reported. Of that number, 538,765 were positive for covid-19, according to Health Department data.
Health Department data indicated that Benton County had the largest increase in total cases, with the count rising by 50.
Pulaski County had the next-largest increase, 31, followed by Sebastian County with 28.