LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that the state of Arkansas was opening up booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to all residents 18 and older.
Under the new state guidelines, the booster doses are recommended six months after taking initial doses for people who took the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two months after the initial dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Hutchinson said the change is designed to encourage more people to consider booster doses and to clear up confusion around who was eligible to get a booster.
The CDC recommendations for the boosters for adults 65 and older, as well as adults in long-term care facilities and adults with some underlying medical conditions or those working in high-risk settings.
This change in booster dose policy makes Arkansas the fourth state in the country with access for all adults to the additional vaccine doses, following California, Colorado and New Mexico.
The governor also noted concerns in the vaccination rates being seen in younger Arkansans following federal approval of pediatric vaccine doses.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero echoed those concerns and said that the combination of lower vaccination levels and mask requirements being pulled in schools is leading to intraschool transmission of COVID-19, which had not been a major factor of disease spread before.
Romero cited a recent school closure in Conway, where on Friday an elementary school closed for the day due to a surge in the number of positive cases of the virus and the number of people in quarantine after exposure.
Secretary of Education Johnny Key noted that COVID-19 cases in Arkansas schools had dipped below 900 at the beginning of the month but had climbed back to nearly 1,200 in the latest report last Thursday.
Hutchinson shared the latest data from the Arkansas Department of Health, which showed a drop in active cases after nearly a week of increases. Active cases were down 351 to 4,785, while 151 total new cases were added, increasing the state total to 519,911.
The ADH also reported 12 deaths added to the state’s tally, moving the pandemic death toll to 8,579.
The number of Arkansans hospitalized due to COVID-19 remained steady at 282, while an additional patient went on a ventilator, moving that number up to 59.
The data showed 2,769 new COVID-19 vaccine doses were given out in the last day. As of Monday, 1,421,492 Arkansans were fully immunized and another 304,645 were partially immunized.
Hutchinson pushing back against unaccompanied minors coming from the border
Hutchinson started the briefing by discussing his concerns with the growing number of unaccompanied minors coming from the southern border of the United States to sponsors in Arkansas.
He said that Arkansas has seen 672 minors coming from the border and claimed that the vetting process for sponsors is not as rigorous as it should be, which he said has led to an increase in calls to the state child abuse hotline.
The governor said he was sending a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington to look for more transparency in the federal program.
Hutchinson noted that while the HHS is sending the minors to Arkansas, it falls on the state to pay for their care if they are taken into custody after reports of abuse.
The governor said there were still no dates set for a special session to consider legislation addressing a tax reduction plan.
He also said he welcomed benefits coming to Arkansas as part of Pres. Joe Biden’s bi-partisan infrastructure bill. However, the governor did say he opposed the larger spending bill being pursued by the White House.