Monday, March 8, 2021

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Andrew DeMillo – AP, Col. Robert “Gator” Ator, Mercedes Mackay – KTHV, Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16, Dr. Jose Romero, Governor Asa Hutchinson

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:12:01

Good morning. Thank you for joining me today for a couple of important announcements relating to our vaccination program in Arkansas. And I know this is Monday morning. But it is important to get this information out to the public and also to our providers so that they can make the appropriate adjustments for this week in terms of their schedule for vaccinations. And first, I want to announce that we are opening up the 1-B category to everyone in 1-B. And so if we go on the graph here, we’ll see. Right now, it were in 1-B were vaccinated in 1-B, but we were limiting it to the 65 years and older, those in education, first responders, and then last week, if you remember, we open it up to our food – those are working processing plants. And so we want to open it up more fully today to all the categories in 1-B, which will primarily include those that are in manufacturing facilities, which is a great need that we have, as well as public transport and other essential categories of individuals in our society, and including those that are in essential government services. But for example, in government, we have those that are in category one, which are those that are dealing with a public that are in need of vaccination, some others are in the 1-C category. But this will allow us to make a big stride in terms of getting all of the categories in 1-B available for vaccines. Now, what led to this is, oh, over the weekend, we had some great mass clinics, one of them being in Jonesboro and other places. And we noticed that we did not have the demand that we anticipated, which indicates either people are getting the vaccinations in different places, we’re getting more of them covered, but it also could simply indicate that there’s some resistance to the vaccines. And, and so we want we have to keep the demand for the vaccines up we have to keep the lines full, because people want access those vaccines and, and we want to make sure we get them out as fast as we can, within 72 hours into the arms of Arkansans. In order to do that, we’re continuing to open up the new categories, these categories is about 180,000 people that will be added, I got that right, Colonel 180,000 people all total.  I also want to announce that we are moving from 1-C to the 1-B category, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The reason for this is that they’re a very vulnerable population that is susceptible to virus and, and we want to have them covered. And then secondly, that’s a small number relatively speaking in that category. And we’ve already vaccinated many of them because they are housed in a residential facility for intellectual or developmental disabilities. So this will help us to clean up or to get those that have not been covered previously, but we’re moving them to 1-C, so wheat or excuse me from 1-C to 1-B so that we can cover them. And so again, we’re adding all of those in food and agriculture, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, essential government workers, grocery store, meal delivery, postal package delivery service, public transit, houses of worship, manufacturing, all of those that are dealing really in a public facing or in a close environment, or critical industry that needs to be covered.  The third announcement that I wanted to mention today, and that is if we’ll go to the next one, we’re opening up a statewide vaccination appointment system. And this is supplementary to our existing system where you can call the pharmacy or provider for an appointment. That system will remain in place. That’s your first option but I know that some have struggled with going on the internet, getting the names of the locations and getting it set up. Some of the appointment system is all internet base. And so we are devoting 20 personnel today, tomorrow be up to 30 personnel to have a call center with our Department of Health, that any individual Arkansas can call and get assistance to navigate their way to get an appointment. So it is a human assistance, it is a statewide toll free number that you can call. Here’s the number 1-800-985-6030. It begins operation today. And so today, you can call that number, and you can get assistance that you need. There’ll be translation services available. And they can schedule appointments for a Department of Health vaccination clinic, and we announced last week that we’re going to be doing one of those in each of our public health regions. The first one will be this Wednesday in Conway County. And so you could call this number and get appointments scheduled through the Department of Health for those clinics. Now, if you’re looking to go to your local pharmacy to get a vaccination or to another clinic that’s out there, we can help guide you to the right one, but you’ll still have to make the call and make that appointment. But we can give you the list, we can help you navigate to get to the right provider for that appointment. And they also provide information on the pharmacies and other providers around the state. So very important announcements today. And before I turn it over Dr. Romero and turn it, we’ll turn it over to questions after that. But I did want to emphasize that if it’s your turn to get a vaccination, one, be patient because we’re adding 180,000. And we’ll have over 100,000 doses this week that we could administer. But and so we’ll move through them fairly quickly. But you have to be patient because you can clog the system quickly. And and so we should be on target get through all of these vaccinations in 1-B by my goal, which is the end of March. But it might be a week, it might be two weeks for you actually get this schedule. So be patient. The second thing I would emphasize is that if you’ve called and and put your name on two lists to get vaccinated, and you go get your vaccination, take your name off the list. Because otherwise you’re causing the pharmacy to call multiple times to get someone scheduled. You call them up and you say, we’re ready to get your appointment this week. And they say, Well, I’m sorry, I already got my vaccination last week at another place. And so it saves a lot of the work if you take your name off the system if you’ve already had your vaccine. And then thirdly, please get your vaccine if it’s your turn, get it. And whenever we have a clinic, we want all of those slots filled up. We want people vaccinated in 1-B so we can go to the 1-C category in April. We’re going to continue to get these supplies in but we want to get them in the arms are our Kansans because it is what is saving lives and getting us back to more normal. Dr. Romero.

Dr. Jose Romero  11:20:43

So just to echo what the governor has said, we have expanded the groups and this will allow us to finish the 1-B categories. We are receiving sufficient vaccine. Colonel Ator is effective in getting these vaccines into individuals within 72 hours of having received vaccines. We have the possibility to get through this group by the end of the month. One of our problems, I think for the entire state is individuals as the governor has said being on multiple lists, it’s important not to do that. Or if you are on multiple lists to rapidly remove your names from those lists so that we can open up other positions for citizens in the state. So we are making progress. As has been stated by the federal government, there should be sufficient vaccine to vaccinate every American who desires vaccine by the end of May of this year. So there is going to be a large supply and an increasing supply of vaccines over the next month to two months. Lastly, there are quote, advantages and quote to having a vaccination.The CDC issued today new recommendations for individuals that have been fully vaccinated. Those include being able to gather with other families that don’t have serious conditions, or have not been vaccinated, the issues of being in public or still wearing a mask, but that gives you more leeway, and that you don’t have to quarantine or if you’ve been exposed to somebody who does have COVID, and you have been fully vaccinated, that whole list, we will talk more about tomorrow. But again, it is an incentive to get your vaccination. So I’ll turn it back over to the governor. Thank you, sir.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:22:34

Thank you, Dr. Romero, we have Colonel Ator here as well, who continues to do a great job of Project Manager over our vaccine administration efforts. He’s available for any questions. With that we’ll turn over any questions you might have.


Is the essential government workers, does that include legislators and court employees?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:22:57

Yes. So that would include the legislators, their staff. They’re obviously working here every day in close proximity. And so this will be available to them. It will also include the central workers in the judiciary, believe the Chief Justice outlined what he categorized as those that were in jury trials that we’re facing with the public and define those. And so it’s not an all inclusive number of court personnel. But it is or should say, not all inclusive number of government workers. But they know that whenever they are in the category of public facing, and in 1-B category,

Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16  11:23:49

What are the hours on the hotline?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:23:52

The hours on the hotline are 8am to 6pm. Monday through Friday, Monday through Friday, 8am to 6pm. That’s where we are right now. And so call that number if you need assistance.

Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16  11:24:12

Are there other plans to expand that when when the time comes?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:24:16

That is taken about 30 personnel. And it’s possible that it could be expanded, but right now, it’s limited to those hours, which should help those that are particularly they work they off it should fit in with those hours. If we need to expand it. We’ll look at that down the road.

Mercedes Mackay – KTHV  11:24:40

I know the state has has slowly started to receive the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Will those shots be administered this week?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:24:47

Yes. I’m gonna ask Colonel Ator, Why don’t you comment on the J&J vaccine and how that’s working?

Col. Robert “Gator” Ator  11:24:57

Thank you, sir. So yes, we got 24,400 doses into the state. And those are in the state as we speak. Because of the the way they’re going to distribute these things is that we got this big we cleaned out the warehouse. And so we got a lot more vaccine than we were truly expecting. But the state will not see any follow up vaccine for the next two weeks. So what we plan to do with it and how it’s going to be used this week is we’re turning that to our food processing that was identified last week. And so we’ve we’ve got targets for them. And we’re going to make a good dent into the food processing network this week because of that, so so we’re making some good progress for that. And we should get have it all done by the end of this week.


So people, who say to have a certain pharmacy, they’ve been trying to get into to get vaccinated, Would they be able to sign up and receive the Johnson and Johnson vaccine? Or is it mainly going to those food processing manufacturers and then it’ll be able to be available for appointment?

Col. Robert “Gator” Ator  11:25:55

Right now is this week is because we have this big glut that they put on us. We used it in this very targeted way. Going forward as the volume increases, and you’ve probably seen in the press about, they’re working with Merck to be able to really really increase the the output or the production of the of the J&J vaccine. At that point, we’re gonna have it out everywhere. And so at some point, we will be there.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:26:23

And we hope that everyone will simply call for a vaccine appointment. And it won’t be an issue as to which vaccine they receive when they get there, obviously, if it’s a two dose vaccine that will be scheduled for their reappointment, but we treat all of these vaccines alike in terms of their efficacy, and we urge everyone to take what is available. All right with that, I think that’s clear. Is there anything remotely that I should be paying attention?

Andrew DeMillo – AP  11:26:58

Yeah, Governor, this is Andrew with AP wanted to ask and I decided the demand issue but the Supreme Court issuing that order last week dealing with withcourt personnel want to see if that that was a factor at all in this decision and non COVID, want to see where things stand right now with SB 6, if you’ve made a decision on whether to sign it

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:27:24

 On SB 6, that comes up later in the week in terms of my schedule and reviewing bills, so I’m not there yet. In terms of the court’s order last week, what we can’t have is that people self determined as to when they’re going to move up in the line. And it was not the time for the court personnel, just like it wasn’t time for the legislature under the priorities that have been set by the Department of Health and our vaccine administration program. And so that’s why I resisted it, because you cannot move yourself up in the line. But over the weekend, we did have sufficient supplies that we can not just include the court personnel, but we can include all of 1-B. And so it is simply a matter of, we’re in a position now to move to all of 1-B and vaccination, and not creating any priorities within that. We’re doing all of one b that is eligible now.

Mercedes Mackay – KTHV  11:28:30

And this is this is Benji Hardy with the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network. So up until fairly recently, it seemed like the limiting factor was supply. So I wondered, is this a surprise? Is this catch people off guard? But suddenly, it seems like demand is the issue? And how long has that been the case? And then also, is that an issue just in some parts of the state? Or is it sort of statewide that you’re seeing the demand issue popping up?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:28:58

It does vary across the state? You know, we but over the weekend, I had everything from South Arkansas to clinics in Northeast to Northwest people. And in fact, some news stories on it, indicating that all of the slots were not being filled. And it did come as a surprise to me, whenever you look at a mass vaccination clinic and Jonesboro with 3000 slots, and I believe they did a little bit less than 2000. That means they have another 1000 doses that they’re wanting to fill and they will, we’ll get those out. But this is an urgent matter to me. This is where we want our team to get them in arms within 72 hours of whenever they arrive in this state. And to do that we have to have a very efficient operation. So I was surprised by it. And I think it It shows the fact that people are moving quickly to get their vaccines is moving more quickly through these categories than that I anticipated anyway, at the beginning of last week. So I think we’ve managed it well in terms of giving very organized structure as we move through these categories so that you don’t have miles of lines of people lining up for it is by appointment, or however the clinic designates. But it did surprise me last week that we did have that gap. And that’s why we wanted to move very quickly on the first thing this Monday to open up all of 1-B. Jay.

Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16  11:30:43

So I guess on that note, with there being just a lack of demand have we seen or how much waste of vaccine that we’ve seen if any?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:30:51

Zero but I’m going to let somebody authoritatively say that.

Col. Robert “Gator” Ator  11:30:57

In the vaccine program, we have like two four letter words and one is wastage and the other one is latency. And so what we’re talking about today is making sure that demand stays high so that you know any vaccine that sits in a fridge is of no use to us it needs to be in the arm of an Arkansa.n On the wasted side, we’ve been extremely efficient with what we’ve done. Altogether 234 doses as been lost in the entire history of the program when we started, so over a million doses and we’ve only lost 234 and most of that has to be as in the long term care facility program. And that is a unique challenge because they’re moving to that facility to get the shot in at that person you know is not there or changes their mind about getting a shot then then we you know we are not left with a chance to put it in someone else.

Jay Bir – KARK 4/Fox 16  11:31:48

So is there a protocol for any of these clinics to use, maybe they’re bumping up on we don’t have enough people for maybe one of the vials or anything like that?

Col. Robert “Gator” Ator  11:31:59

Well, they shouldn’t. And that’s the whole reason why the scheduling is so important for us. You know, we know that how many people are going to be coming before us, so we only reconstitute the area, the number that we need. So anytime we have to reconstitute beyond that, you know, yes, I, you know, we don’t want any wastage. And we’ve been very, very efficient at doing just that. But you know, the one thing is, is that, you know, we, we are working with our partners, and that was the reason why this move over the weekend was is that, you know, latency, we don’t want anything sitting in a fridge somewhere, we want it in the arms of Arkansans. And so we’re gonna move quickly to do just that.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:32:38

Is there one final question?

Mercedes Mackay – KTHV  11:32:41

Based on the call center, How many people you expecting to call that line? And then kind of, what have you learned from the past of setting up these type of call centers and these phone systems?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  11:32:54

Well, in terms of what we expect, I expect a fairly large volume of calls, and is illustrated by the fact that we have 20 staff as designated to answer those calls. But we’ll see what the volume is. And usually it is very large at the beginning. And then as people understand the system better, it will slow down as time goes on. But we want to be as helpful as possible. And that is the reason for this, that we understand that some people don’t feel comfortable navigating the internet to make an appointment. And so I urge this, I recognize this being important having a centralized call center department health agreed with that, and they got it set up very, very quickly. Stephanie Williams here, the department health chief of staff have worked on it over the weekend, and very pleased with this. And part of it is that as we move to our Department of Health, having clinics themselves in our public health regions, that there is a another means that you can make those appointments as well, versus calling the local public health you call the centralized system and you can be assigned to those clinics as they move around the state. And then supplemental again, helping to direct them to the right pharmacy. Again, they’ll have to make a call, but they will have the best solution being provided and the best information by the centralized system. Thank you very much for your quick response today and your help and getting this word out. Thank you.