Last Thursday, the Advisory Committee of the Federal Drug Administration said “yes” to the emergency use authorization of the first coronavirus vaccine in the United States, and today, I’d like to talk about what that means for Arkansas.
This is a historic development in this pandemic. Now we can move forward with confidence and hope that we will win this fight. The Pfizer vaccine has already arrived in Arkansas and the first dosages have been distributed to our health care workers. The next round of vaccine will be distributed to our nursing homes.
Although in the first delivery there was not enough vaccine to cover every health care worker, the hospitals prioritized the distribution. And then there will be second and continuing deliveries until everyone is covered.
It is essential that we provide the vaccine to our most vulnerable citizens in our long-term care facilities. In Arkansas, 79.5 percent of our COVID deaths occur in those 65 years or older. I expect the FDA to approve additional vaccines this month, which will accelerate our immunization program and increase the number of people we can vaccinate.
We will continue to prioritize the vaccine distribution until it is widely available and everyone is covered. It is my belief that the determination and ingenuity of our pharmaceutical industry combined with the support of our federal partners will result in universal distribution in historic and record time. It may be late spring before everyone in Arkansas has access to a vaccine, but we will get to that point, and if we all do our part, we will beat this silent killer together. There is hope and a bright day ahead.
The experts say that in order for the vaccine to defeat the virus that 70 percent of our population must take the shot. I have confidence in the vaccine. In fact, Susan and I will be taking the vaccine when it is our turn. There will be no government directives to be vaccinated, but that should not be necessary when it is so important to our nation and state.
In the meantime, we must be remain vigilant with the 3 Ws: Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Watch your social distance.
We are just two weeks out from Thanksgiving, and we are seeing the predicted surge in the number of COVID-19 cases. Christmas is just over a week away, and we must do everything we can to avoid a third surge.
I hope that everyone will find a safe way to celebrate Christmas and that this year will be better and brighter than ever. That means we need to think about out-of-state travel and what is necessary and limit the size of our gatherings. I loved the idea of a family from Little Rock who said they are going to celebrate Christmas outside around a firepit. Be innovative. Figure out what we can do to have a meaningful holiday without spreading the virus.
Let’s team up as fellow Arkansans and slow the spread of COVID during Christmas. With the dawn of a New Year and the arrival of a vaccine, I am confident we are on the right path to shut down this pandemic and return to life without public health restrictions.
Asa Hutchinson is the 46th governor of Arkansas. To contact him, visit governor.arkansas.gov/.