Community leaders have teamed up to go door to door and reach out to those in low-income communities who have yet to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Arkansas Community Organizations and 501(c)3 partner Arkansas Community Institute announced the launch of the outreach effort during a news conference outside Pine Bluff City Hall on Wednesday. The outreach is taking place in several southeastern and eastern counties in the state, including Jefferson and Desha, as well as Pulaski and Saline counties in Central Arkansas.
"We have worked by making calls, going to doors and completing surveys concerning the need to urge people to get vaccinated against covid," Arkansas Community Organizations lead organizer Demetrius Melvin said. "We feel that this work on the campaign is necessary in order to [curb] the spread of covid, and as a result it is a recipe to cut down on deaths from the virus. Also, our reasoning for this work is about the need to get out in the community to tell people the truth about vaccines."
Melvin said outreach workers have talked to more than 1,000 people in Jefferson, Desha, Pulaski and Saline counties, adding that one-on-one conversation is needed to encourage people to be vaccinated.
Melvin said in a news release before the event that he hesitated to get vaccinated because he was waiting to see what side effects may affect others.
"Finally, after my daughter was exposed to covid and she tested positive, we had to quarantine for two weeks," Melvin said. "She made it through, and I decided to get vaccinated."
State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, and former Pine Bluff City Council Member Irene Holcomb were among many speakers on the importance of vaccinations to the community. Arkansas Community Organizations Chair Rosetta Madison and Petting Williams also shared their stories about hesitating and spoke about the need to curb the virus.
"There is so much disinformation out there about the vaccine," said Neil Sealy, Arkansas Community Institute state director. "The recent state legislative session has only added to it. We are hoping to speak with residents one on one in a positive and supportive way to break down some of the hesitation about taking the vaccine."
The announcement was made just a few hours before Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a news conference from the state Capitol that Senate Bill 739 and House Bill 1977, which he said are designed to push back against President Joe Biden's vaccination mandate for federal contractors and employers with more than 100 workers, will become law but without his signature.
"I am opposed to the current mandate by the Biden administration, but the solution is not to place additional mandates on employers at the state government level," Hutchinson, a Republican, said.
"The solution is not to put employers in a squeeze play between state and federal law.
"Employers need the freedom to protect their employees and their customers, and government should not interfere with that freedom through mandates."