Gov. Asa Hutchinson clarified statewide COVID-19 vaccination plans during a press conference held on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
The vaccination plan has been divided into multiple phases: Phases 1-A, 1-B and 1-C. Phase 1-A is currently underway.
In Phase 1-A, vaccinations will be given to high-priority health care workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, and other high priority groups. These groups include primary care workers; urgent care workers; EMS, fire and law enforcement officials who serve as first responders; corrections officers; school nurses and individuals working in college/university health centers, K-12 health clinics,, dental clinics, pharmacies, home health, private care/personal care, hospice care, dialysis centers and blood donation centers.
State officials modified the recommended guidelines for vaccinations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to include first responders in Phase 1-A. “We believe that they ought to stay in 1A because they are putting themselves at risk,” Hutchinson said. “Our initial planning included our first responders in 1A.”
According to Hutchinson, this phase aims to provide vaccinations to 180,000 individuals by the end of January. Hutchinson said that the vaccine rollout to health care workers was coming along quickly in response to media questions, but conceded that the vaccine rollout to long-term care facilities presented more “logistical challenges” and had been a slower process.
Once Phase 1-A is completed, the state will shift to Phase 1-B, which is projected to begin on Feb. 1. This phase will target individuals age 70 and older as well as frontline essential workers, including teachers and school staff, food and agricultural workers, firefighters and police not included in Phase 1-A, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, child care workers, U.S. Postal Service workers and essential government workers.
This phase was also modified by state officials to lower the age cutoff. This move was designed to impact the age groups with the highest levels of COVID-related deaths, Hutchinson said.
“Instead of having age 75-plus in category 1-B, we have reduced that to age 70-plus in category 1-B. That’s the population that’s at risk in Arkansas. That was the consensus from our health advisors and our team,” he said.
This phase is projected to impact approximately 400,000 individuals in Arkansas.
“You can see the monumental shift in volume whenever you go into 1-B,” Hutchinson said. “1-C, of course, is an even larger scope of the population.
The third phase – Phase 1-C – is currently expected to begin in April 2021 as the number of vaccine doses in the state increase. This phase will focus on people who are aged 65 to 69 and people who are aged 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions, and specific essential workers.
These essential workers include individuals in the following industries: transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelther and housing, public safety, finance, IT and communications, energy, media and public health workers.
Hutchinson admitted that the timetables for Phases 1-B and 1-C could shift based on various factors, such as acceptance rate in the state. However, he noted that the priorties were essential to maintain control on the supply of vaccine doses.
“There could be, down the road, adjustments in 1b or 1 c depending upon the acceptance rate and the opinion of our medical advisors. We’ll continue to study the response and our needs that are out there, measure that data to make adjustments…,” he said.
“It’s necessary to have these priorities simply because we have a limited number of doses and our supply chain is limited. As it comes in, we’ll be able to move more quickly through these categories.”