State officials continue to push for increased vaccinations, particularly after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is reintroduced for distribution and use.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters on Tuesday, April 27 that there is an ample supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses in Arkansas to accommodate eligible individuals. “The supply is not a problem. We have vaccines available right now,” he said.
As of Monday, April 26, the state had 358,000 Pfizer vaccine doses, 288,000 Moderna doses and 70,000 J&J doses available.
The issue, he said, was a growing hesitancy surrounding the vaccines. He attributed this to a misconception that the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic was lessened.
“Absolutely, we have a challenge with vaccine hesitancy,” he said. “The urgency of getting a vaccine has been diminished.”
Hutchinson called on Arkansas employers to encourage employees to get vaccinated and to provide the resources for them to make informed decisions about the vaccine. This could include providing time off to obtain a vaccine, he suggested, or giving them vaccine education or even increasing access by hosting a worksite vaccine clinic.
“We need employer leadership as we continue to fight this battle,” Hutchinson said.
This push comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lifted a temporary pause on the J&J vaccine on Friday, April 23, with state officials announcing on Monday that the vaccine would be distributed again in Arkansas. This pause was caused by a series of reactions to the J&J vaccines when individuals, all females ranging in age from 18 to 48, experienced blood clots in the first two weeks after the vaccine’s administration.
After an investigation, the CDC and FDA determined that the vaccine met its safety standards and the risks posed by the vaccine were outweighed by its benefits.
Hutchinson said that the state of Arkansas would be receiving an additional shipment of the J&J vaccine from the federal government and that it would be available around the state. “It is plentiful in terms of pharmacies, providers and other federal entities that have it,” he said.
Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero reiterated the need for vaccination, saying that the number of COVID-19 variants have increased in the state. The total number of variant isolates have increased by two-fold, while the UK variant has increased by three-fold, according to Romero.
“We need to bring this under control. The more people that are unimmunized, the more there is a chance for this virus to spread and to continue to mutate. So we could see new variants if we have large enough populations of people not vaccinated,” Romero said.