LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas is expanding its distribution of the coronavirus vaccine to teachers and people aged 70 and older, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday.
Hutchinson said the state starting Monday will move into part of its next phase of the vaccine distribution, which will also include workers in child care and higher education. Hutchinson said this will cover more than 443,000 additional Arkansans.
“We want to continue to increase, as fast as we can, getting these doses into the arms of Arkansans while at the same time being able to manage the limited supply that we’re given,” Hutchinson said at a news conference on the Capitol.
The additional groups were initially part of a second phase of vaccinations that the state hoped to begin in February. That phase will include essential workers such as food and manufacturing workers and essential government employees.
The Arkansas Education Association, which has criticized the state’s requirement that schools offer in-person education, called Tuesday’s move a welcome step.
“This updated timeline brings an opportunity to return to an in-person education where every student can thrive – but only if vaccination campaigns are done safely and equitably,” Carol Fleming, the group’s president, said in a statement.
Arkansas last week adjusted its vaccine rollout, moving police, firefighters and other first responders to the first phase of the vaccine’s distribution.
Hutchinson also appointed a member of the state Economic Development Commission, retired Air Force Col. Robert Ator, to implement and coordinate the vaccine distribution in the state.
The latest forecast released Tuesday by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health warned that the vaccine’s impact on the state won’t be seen in the short or mid-term.
“We should expect to see large numbers of new cases, new hospitalizations, and deaths for at least the next two months, particularly among the age groups that are less likely to be currently eligible for the vaccine,” the report said.
The state’s virus cases on Tuesday rose by 3, 209 to to 259,553. Forty more people died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, bringing the state’s total fatalities since the pandemic began to 4,121.
The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped by 17 to 1,354, the day after the state hit a new high for patients in the hospital due to the virus.