There were plenty of doses still available for a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic being held this week for those 70 years old or older, and appointments will continue to be taken through Wednesday, according to a Unity Health representative.
Unity Health began booking appointments Monday for the clinic, which will run Tuesday through Thursday at Fellowship Baptist Church, 1009 E. Beebe-Capps Expressway. The total number of doses that will be administered during the clinic is 1,000. Residents of the state can schedule an appointment at (501) 500-8901.
Another representative from Unity Health said the appointments will be from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Those being vaccinated will need to show up again in three weeks for their second dose of the vaccine.
Michelle Rupp, chief communications and strategy officer for Arkansas Foundation For Medical Care, which is partnering with Unity Health on the clinic, said they are going to talk walk-in, but those with appointments will be served first.
Although ice and snow over the last week and a half caused some vaccination appointments around the state to be delayed and pushed into this week, Arkansas Department of Health Public Information Director Gavin Lesnick said vaccinations did continue somewhat, with several thousand each day.
Despite lower numbers being vaccinated because of the weather, Lesnick said the good news was “if someone had a second dose scheduled for Tuesday and they had to move it because they couldn’t get there, [because of] the space between the two doses, the three weeks for the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks for the Moderna vaccine, you do still have time.”
He said because there is six weeks after the first dose to get the second, a delay is “not going to have any effect on the effectiveness of the second dose. It will still work just like it did.”
Lesnick said he would also be surprised if the delay caused any of the vaccine doses to spoil.
“We are using those [doses] within the first few days. so the shelf life is much longer than that,,” he said. “Even if it was put off a week it is unlikely any would be spoiled; the same with the second doses.
Lesnick said a positive thing the health department has seen during the winter weather is a drop in hospitalizations.
“As of Sunday, we are under 600 in COVID-19 hospitalizations,” Lesnick said. “A big drop and that is great news. We were up over 1,300 just a couple of months ago so that gives them some breathing room; definitely a good sign. It is important that we keep following the guidelines so it does not go back up.”
While there has been a drop in hospitalizations, COVID-19 testing also was affected by the ice and snow.
”There is a lot of testing that is conducted by the health department,” Lesnick said. “There is at least one local health unit in every county and we also do rapid testing there if people do have symptoms, but because of the weather, our local health units have been shut for most of the week.
“We did have some open back up on Friday but even those ones can’t do PCR testing, because the way the PCR test work is you give a sample at the health unit and then it is taken by courier service to the public health lab here in Little Rock. That courier service wasn’t running so even the ones that were open Friday weren’t doing PCR testing. That has taken our numbers down certainly.”
The allocation of vaccine doses has been on the rise, though, according to Lesnick. He said the first-round allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses was 37,000 for a while and it has crept up to around the mid- to upper-40,000s now.
”Speaking generally, we have seen the doses go up and up,” he said. “It is what we expected. We always knew production was going to ramp up and become more efficient as that happened. All the states are going to get more doses and we are pleased to see that happening and we want it to continue.
“As Dr. Jennifer Dillaha [the department’s director for immunizations] says, and it remains true, the rate limiting factor right now is the supply of vaccine. We have plenty of providers, people who can give these doses, we just need more supplies.”
Another thing Lesnick talked about was the federal retail partnership with Walmart that began recently.
“That is expected to be 11,600 doses each week that are going to some Walmart stores around the state,” he said. “If you go on the Walmart website, you can see a map of them. I believe the first appointments for those were a week ago [Friday]. I am sure they were subjected to the same issues with the weather. I think some Walmart stores may have closed completely. We have seen those numbers come in. Those vaccinations are happening. They will ramp up as things clear up.”
Harp’s Pharmacy intern Madeline Phan, a Harding University pharmacy student, said the pharmacy is having to play “catch-up) because the weather “caused a lot of people not to be able to come to their appointment or their second dose appointment.”
“We are still giving the shots that were already scheduled and we are trying to fill in the gaps for all the people who missed their original appointment,” Phan said. “Also, we have distributors who come in from Memphis. We didn’t get our typical daily orders because of the snow, [but] now we are catching up on our orders and putting all that up. Our patients have been very kind and understanding.”
Phan said Harps Pharmacy has been giving about 50 doses of the vaccine per week.
Sunday’s figures on vaccinations from The New York Times showed that 12.2 percent of Arkansans have been given at least one dose of the vaccines and 5.2 percent have received two doses of the vaccine. The Times reported that as of Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 43.6 million in the U.S. have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, including 18.9 million who have been fully vaccinated.