Governor outlines process for COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11 in advance of CDC ruling

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday outlined the process for children ages 5-11 to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in anticipation of an upcoming CDC ruling on the authorization of shots for children. The ruling is expected this week, and possibly as soon as Tuesday.

Hutchinson said the vaccines, which will be given in smaller doses and packaged differently than shots intended for older children and adults, will be available initially at Arkansas Health Units across the state immediately after the CDC ruling.

“Arkansas is well prepared to get out the vaccines and make them available for the new age group that we anticipate being approved,” he said Tuesday. “We expect their decision on this today, which I expect to be positive.”

Hutchinson said after the ruling, parents can immediately contact their local health unit to schedule a vaccination for their child. Other ‘Vaccines for Children (VFC) providers across the state, including local physicians, will also be giving vaccines to children as soon as the CDC makes their ruling on them he said.

Arkansas Secretary of Health Jose Romero said the state expects about 110,000 doses of vaccines for children in the initial wave.

Soon, he said, other pharmacies and other clinics across the state will be added to the program. That could come “next week, towards the end of this week,” he said.

Romero said he recommends parents make an appointment to schedule their vaccine, though some availability on a walk-in bases will be available at the health units, but those individuals may have to wait their turn to accommodate the appointments.

Hutchinson pointed to statistics illustrating the increased risk for children the state saw this summer as a result of the Delta variant of the virus, including a 50% increase in cases, and an 84% increase in hospitalizations between the winter and summer peaks last year.

He also pointed to the benefit of vaccinating children to protect teachers, grandparents, and others that may be at a higher risk of serious issues should the contract the virus.

Hutchinson said the state encourages children in the newly-authorized age group to get the shot if the CDC recommendation goes as expected, but added that he does not anticipate the state mandating vaccines for that age group at this time.

CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to rule on vaccine recommendations on emergency use authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for the 5-11 age group sometime later today. After that, once CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signs off on the recommendation, the shots will be officially available.

Parents interested in scheduling a vaccination for their child with a local health unit can call a hotline established for this purpose at 800-803-7847.

Case update

Hutchinson announced that COVID-19 cases in Arkansas increased by 641 on Tuesday.

The governor announced 28 new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in the state as a result of the pandemic to 8,412.

Hospitalizations were down by six, bringing the total number of patients hospitalized in the state to 325.

There are currently 88 patients in the state on ventilators, down one from the day previous.

There are 4,490 cases of COVID-19 considered active in the state, which includes those that have tested positive by both PCR and antigen testing methods.

The new cases bring the total cumulative count in Arkansas to 513,993 since the pandemic began.

Hutchinson that 10,327 additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, bringing the total number of doses given by the state to 4,170,520. The state lists 287,447 as partially immunized, and 1,400,779 individuals as fully immunized. Hutchinson added that about 21% of the vaccine doses administered were first doses. "I'm actually pleased with that, in the sense that there was some expectation that first doses will go down, but they've been maintaining steady, so we continue to make progress in our first doses."

All Arkansans ages 12 and older are currently eligible for a vaccine. Those who need assistance locating a vaccine can call 1-800-985-6030.