Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero said Tuesday the number of people infected with the UK variant of COVID-19 has tripled in Arkansas.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” Romero said. “It’s here and we expect to see more.”
He said the variant has a higher mortality rate and is more transmissible. States that have a high number of variant cases have had more children being hospitalized for COVID-19, according to Romero.
“We need to bring this under control,” he said. “The more people that are un-immunized the more there is a chance for this virus to spread and to continue to mutate.”
Hutchinson said vaccine hesitancy is hindering the state’s efforts to reach herd immunity. He said the urgency to get a vaccine has dropped as have Arkansas’ number of new cases and hospitalizations.
The Arkansas Department of Health is reportedly working to get the vaccine to harder-to-reach populations. Hutchinson said he wants to see vaccines made available at baseball games, shopping malls, schools and other areas where people gather.
Hutchinson said there is plenty of vaccines available in the state. As of April 26, the ADH reported an inventory of 358,000 Pfizer doses, 288,000 Moderna doses and 70,000 Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) doses.
The state resumed the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week after a nationwide pause over safety concerns and a review by the CDC. Romero said on Tuesday he is confident that the Janssen vaccine is safe and effective.
“The benefit as opposed to the risk far outweighs the use of the vaccine,” he said. “This occurrence of clotting occurs so infrequently, rarely, very, very rarely, that it is safe to use the vaccine.”
The state has called on employers to “provide leadership” by allowing employees time off to get the vaccine, educating employees on the safety of the vaccine and by helping employees make their appointments.
When asked about the vaccine percentage he hopes to reach, the governor said epidemiologists say 70% provides herd immunity. But he said that percentage will not happen soon in Arkansas because of vaccine hesitancy.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us to get there in the short term,” Hutchinson said.
Arkansas has received 2.4 million vaccines since Dec. 14, including 26,770 in the previous 24 hours. Of that, 1.66 million doses have been administered, or 66.6% of vaccines received, according to the ADH. The state reports 15,170 vaccines administered in the past 24 hours. The department also reports 301,388 Arkansans are partially immunized and 707,072 are fully immunized, or 23.5% of the state population.
On Tuesday, there were 1,844 active confirmed and probable cases in Arkansas. There were 157 people hospitalized for the virus, down 13 from Monday and five more deaths were linked to COVID-19.