Tuesday, April 13, 2021

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Alex Burch – KATV, Col. Robert “Gator” Ator, Brett Rains – 40/29, Mike McNeil –, Mercedes Mackay – KTHV, Josh White – KAIT, Dr. Jose Romero, Secretary Johnny Key (ADE), Sec. Solomon Graves – ADC, Governor Asa Hutchinson

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:22:01

Good afternoon to everyone. Thank you for joining me for today’s weekly COVID-19 update. We have some very important topics to address today, particularly on the urgency of getting the vaccine out in Arkansas. And also to address the J&J vaccine and the CDC discussion on that. Let me first recognize those that are with me today. We’re pleased to be joined by Secretary Johnny Key of the Department of Education. And of course, Secretary Jose Romero, who’s playing a key role with the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that he chairs, we have Secretary Solomon Graves today from the Department of Corrections who will give a report on our inmate vaccination program, which a lot of people across Arkansas have expressed concern about. And that is proceeding well. Thank you, Colonel Ator for continuing to lead the rollout effort. First, let me go to the case and vaccine update on the graph that tells the story on the top left, you’ll see the cases. And we have total cases, new cases of 224. That is a larger number than a week ago. We have an increase in the active cases of 23. And then the Deaths, as been noted, we had zero deaths for I believe three days in a row. And now we’re back up to eight. I’ll look forward to the day that that’s a constant figure of zero, but we have eight additional deaths. If you look on the hospitalization side, that is continued good news with eight reduction in our hospitalization, with two additional ones on ventilator. And so the case report, as you can see, and look at the counties on the right side. 55 new cases Washington County 36 new cases in Pulaski and 34 in Benton. Our testing remains at a modest level. We have some discussions about that. And certainly with the low case number people are not getting tested to the same extent. But they are getting tested whenever they feel ill. And so our positivity rate, which I will discuss has edged up just a tad, which is a another area of concern for us. On the vaccination front, we were slow over the weekend, but it picks up again in the week. We had 23,000 doses given out in the last 24 hours, which is a good number, we want to continue to see that at high level. And we’re continuing to increase the number that is fully immunized. Percent of the doses that have been given out is 70%. We have some that’s in reserve for the second dose application. And some is simply there because we don’t have the demand. We want to increase the demand, the doses are there. And that leads me to the next slide, which is a discussion on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. And Dr. Romero have more to say about this. But first of all, we respect the CDC decision and the White House recommendation on a pause, on a short pause, and we will follow that in Arkansas. We will continue our vaccination program uninterrupted. It continues at a rapid pace, and no one should delay getting a vaccination because of the pause on one part of the vaccination. We have this supply currently on hand in Arkansas to meet the demand needs of our state. No one should slow down and say well, because of this, I’m going to wait. Don’t wait, get the vaccine now. It is critically important and I’ll explain some of these reasons in just a moment. I would emphasize that we and I discussed with the Dr. Romero, we have confidence in the J&J vaccine, but it is on pause to be sure on the treatment of any adverse reaction. And as I was on the White House call today with the CDC, with Dr. Fauci as well and others, and they emphasize that when you’re looking at on a percentage basis, six cases out of 6.8 million doses that’s less than one out of a million chances. Obviously, it’s an effective vaccine. But because of that reaction, we want to make sure that the physician community the health care have the right the information on the treatment of any adverse reactions. So that is the reason for the pause. And we’ll continue to monitor that. And so just to illustrate it, though, in terms of the graphics, we have Pfizer and Maoderna vaccines supply this week, and last week.  We’ve had an increase, which will continue. The Janssen vaccine, this was this week supply. Last week we had 43,500 but it’s down 38,300 before this pause, and the reason was because the Baltimore facility that had some issues so that it reduce the flow of Janssen vaccine to our state and so that is even before the pause, that we had a reduction in it. And so we were prepared for that reduction and did not come as – we still have adequate supply. And then if you look at the doses on hand, and we have 245,000 Pfizer doses on hand in Arkansas, 178,000 Moderna doses and 63,000 Janssen doses are in our inventory. Of those 20% are reserved for second doses and 20% are being saved for some mass planned events. And you say, Well, why are we not getting more of those out? And the answer is you. We need you to get your vaccination, we have the doses available to get into your arm, please do not delay, get your appointment and get it done. There is that opportunity for you and nothing will slow it down. Now let’s go to the important – Well, first of all, the vaccine call line, please call it, call that number, and they will be those that can help you identify where the best place is for you to get your vaccination. We have a list of all of the clinics, we have a list of the pharmacies that habit available so we can get you pointed in the right direction. Secondly, if you’re homebound, please feel free to call the vaccine call line because we’re going to be utilizing one of our contractors, the Association Foundation for Medical Care that will be in the process of of going to homebound, we can use our local clinics, so that we can deliver and we can make sure that you’re hooked up with somebody that can get you the vaccine. So call that number. And we’ll make sure that happens. As we’ve mentioned, sometimes there’s a reluctance of getting the second dose or somebody just doesn’t make their appointment, we’re going to utilize one of our contractors again, AFMC, that will start using to do reminder calls for the second dose. So if you didn’t get that second dose, you might expect a call saying please go in and get that second dose because we want you fully immunized. That will start this Saturday, and that’s part of an announcement that I wanted to make on that point today. And then I wanted to emphasize the importance of getting the vaccine. This is Arkansas versus Michigan. It’s not in sports. This is a comparison of our trend lines with COVID-19. And if you go back here you can see the white line is the Michigan trend line. And the orange one is the Arkansas trend line. And you can see how we go in different timeframes. And so in December 8 was Michigan’s first peak. We were down of course then, and then Michigan dropped. And then we went up to our first peak in January 10. And so our first peak was, what 32 days one month away from Michigan’s first peak. And then Arkansas came down after that first peek into where we were in February and we’ve continued low. Michigan came down gradually. And they also reach their low point in February, and then Michigan skyrocketed. They went up on that white line to their second peak, which is April 9. Now if you looked at what happened on the first peak, and our consoles peak, were 32 days apart. The question is will we peak – go up and peak again, just as we followed Michigan and some of the other states before. We lag behind them in our trend line. Now that’s why we’re at a crossroads and we can avoid that second peak ff it comes. We can avoid that second peak by making sure we protect ourselves, but that puts us on the race to a vaccine. Get the vaccine, we need everyone to participate in this. Don’t delay. Because we are in a race, we’re in a race against time to get the vaccinations out before we start going up in our cases, again, at least that’s the trend line that we’ve seen in other states. And then I think that I did want to point out the other concern is the positivity rate. From August to the present the seven day rolling average percent positivity that includes PCR and antigen test, you can see how high we were at our peak in January, in positivity rate getting up to 18%. Now we’re back down, but you can see a slight tick up in the positivity rate. And the concern is that that slight tick up in the positivity right is the reason we had a little bit higher number in cases. So beware that the virus is still here, and that we need to get our vaccination. With that, I wanted to recognize Dr. Romero first. And he has been on a call and he will leave and go on the call as soon as he makes his remarks. And he will be chairing the ACIP committee tomorrow with the CDC has asked him to look at the Janssen vaccine. And so that’s a very important meeting that he will be chairing tomorrow but Dr. Romero.

Dr. Jose Romero  12:33:43

Thank you, Governor. So as the governor has stated, We have noticed through the various reporting system that we have six cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or cbst, reported in this country in individuals that have received the VA Janssen or Johnson and Johnson vaccine. These cases have all occurred in females, the ages range from 18 to 48. And they occur within the first two weeks of administration of the vaccine. This is an important finding. We it is a positive finding in that our systems for detecting these types of very rare events is working successfully. So we had in place and added to that additional systems designed to is specifically to detect detect those very rare events that could be associated with these vaccines. The virus system has been in existence for for very, very many decades, as have several of the other systems we use five to detect them. So this is a success story, and is one of the reasons why we have the safest vaccine programs in the world. We are pardon me, we are not I mean, the company is presenting to the AC IP at this time, the workgroup of the COVID vaccines are taking information from them. And that information will be made available through a public meeting tomorrow, detailing these specific cases. So as the governor mentioned, we believe it is prudent at this time to pause in our administration of the Janssen vaccine until we have more information. And in particular, because this is an unusual manifestation of thrombosis. We want physicians to understand that this treatment for this particular disease is not your standard treatment. And so we there will be a hon a health alert network notification about this and will provide information for treatment you can always reach out the physicians and care providers can reach out to the health department where our physicians can provide you with information. And I’ll stop here, Governor.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:35:59

 And then Secretary Graves says very good report about vaccination program in our Department of Corrections.

Sec. Solomon Graves – ADC  12:36:12

Thank you, Governor and good afternoon, everyone. I wanted to begin real quick with an update on our case counts within the Department of Corrections. As of this morning, we have 48 active cases among our offender population. All of those cases are related to new intakes into the system and not originating from infections within one of our facilities. We also have four staff who are currently out with diagnosed COVID-19. As of this morning, we have administered 3333 doses of a COVID vaccine to DLC employees throughout our various divisions. Of those, Of that amount 2353 doses were administered through a department vaccination clinic. Within our offender population, we have begun a vaccination plan using the two dose Moderna vaccine, where we expect to vaccinate 7454 inmates at the end of this vaccination schedule.  That number is based on surveys of our inmate staff and where and where inmates indicated their planned acceptance of the vaccine. To date, we have administered 719 doses of the Moderna vaccine. The first doses will all be administered by April 21. Second doses will be administered by May the 19th.

Secretary Johnny Key (ADE)  12:37:55

Regarding education, as as has been reported, we have only seen one additional school that has made adjustments for on site learning. And that was in McCrory, the the we have not at this point seen any indication of a spike that we thought could happen post spring break. We are past the two week mark now. And we hope that number continues to show steady. But and then the last thing I’ll report as far as getting back to normal in our schools. Last week, we completed nearly 300,000 administration’s of ACT Aspire test around the state, which is a very strong first week, and that continues for the next several weeks. But we are happy with all the work that the schools are doing to continue to finish this school year in a safe way.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:38:53

Thank you Secretary Key and with that we happy to take any questions.

Josh White – KAIT  12:38:58

In terms of the pause on Johnson and Johnson. what does that mean for –  Does that mean Nobody should be giving any doses of Johnson and Johnson as of today, are  – for people who already have appointments. What does that mean?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:39:14

Well, if you have an appointment, and they have access to the Moderna or the Pfizer absolutely, go to your appointment, and most of our pharmacies have those doses. The Janssen was being used in some specialized area. So check that I would expect and hope that you’d be able to keep that appointment, you should plan on it. Obviously, during this time, for example, we had some state clinics that we’re going to be using the Janssen we’ve postponed those until the pause is lifted. So it does have an impact on in some areas. But we hope that will be very short-lived. Cololnel, did you everything else on that?

Josh White – KAIT  12:40:01

Those six case cases where they had the blood clots, were any of those in Arkansas?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:40:09

Nope. Let’s go remotely. Is there any questions remotely? Let’s start with Central Arkansas, they will go to Northwest. Central.

Alex Burch – KATV  12:40:22

Yes, this is Alex with CHANNEL SEVEN. What would you tell Arkansans who’ve gotten the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and are now concerned? And what are you going to be doing with the doses? Are any of them going to waste?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:40:37

First of all the doses that we have an inventory, they’re appropriately stored and they’re not going to be wasted. In terms of what I would tell those that have received the Janssen thank you for getting it. It remains effective. And so you have got vaccination that works. And that’s what I would tell them and they should not have any worry. Obviously, if there’s anybody that develops symptoms, they should report that to their doctor. But Dr. Romero, I want to hear from you on this.

Dr. Jose Romero  12:41:17

Thank you. So based on information that we have now, if it’s been a month or more since you’ve received the Janssen vaccine, your risk is extremely low. For those individuals that are within the first two to three weeks. Signs and symptoms to watch for the things that you should be looking for are intense headache, that is a very severe migraine more severe than you’ve had in the past or the first time you’ve had a very severe headache, chest pain, abdominal pain, leg pain. Those things should prompt you to seek medical attention at an emergency room and allow those doctors to go ahead and examine you. In the case that you receive the Janssen Merck vaccine and you do visit an emergency room. Please inform the physicians that you’ve received the Janssen vaccine and how many days or weeks it’s been since the last step since the last dose was give, since the dose was given, excuse me

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:42:09

 Another question?

Mercedes Mackay – KTHV  12:42:11

Hi, yes, this is, excuse me. This is Mercedes Mackay with Channel 11. I’m curious governor and Dr. Romero, whether this makes y’all, with this short pause, a little more nervous about those who may have been already hesitant in Arkansas, that they will not want to get any vaccine after this pause?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:42:33

Well, I expressed that concern to the White House today that whenever you say a pause, they need to evaluate this quickly, because we want to make sure that people have access to all three vaccines that have been proven effective. And so it’s going to be a little bit more of a messaging challenge, we got to rebuild any lack of confidence as a result of this pause. We want to emphasize that you got two vaccines that are not impacted by, this that are available. And we hope that the – and the White House is going to have to help us out with the national messaging as to what happens tomorrow in the meetings and the announcement will be coming up in the CDC, but people should have confidence. And we want to continue to build that and i and i think the the fact that they’re being so transparent should build confidence. I mean, they’re disclosing six adverse cases out of 6 million. And so that transparency, and it’s really about treatment should build confidence. We hope that over the long term. Dr. Romero?

Dr. Jose Romero  12:43:52

So to dovetail on what the governor has said, we should feel confident that our system is able to detect these. I also want to point out that the Janssen vaccine is a different platform than the vaccine being used for Pfizer and Madonna. This is the Janssen vaccine is an adeno virus vector vaccine. The others are an MRNA vaccine. Also, please keep in mind that we’ve already detected adverse events with the Moderna, sorry, with the Pfizer vaccine in the Moderna vaccine, some individuals have allergic reactions, and that occurs in about 5 million to two and a half, two, sorry excuse me, five per million or 2.5 per million cases depending on the vaccine. So this seems to be in line with the type of allergic reactions that we’ve had. And we will learn more about it. So we are continued to follow it. We have a system in this country that is very robust for discus for, for identifying discovering these adverse events, and we should feel very safe because of that.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:44:54

Let’s go to Northwestern any questions from that region?

Brett Rains – 40/29  12:44:58

Good afternoon, it’s Brett Rains was 40/29 News. Do we know approximately how long this pause is expected to last? And then second topic will clear up any confusion for vaccinations for 16 and 17 year olds? is a parent consent form required for that? There’s been a little confusion with that. Thank you So much.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:45:17

Okay, in reference to the second part of the question, do you want to handle that? The consent…

Dr. Jose Romero  12:45:30

So they are able to, to obtain vaccine vaccines, of course, will be informed but to the parent of the child. So we have in our state the ability to have children agree to vaccination if they feel that the parents feel it’s appropriate.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:45:46

And Brett, restate the first part of your question.

Brett Rains – 40/29  12:45:50

We know any timeframe how long this pause expected to last?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:45:54

Thank you. The White House, of course, it depends upon the facts. But the White House indicated that they expect it to be in terms of days or weeks and not weeks or months. And so that’s how they’ve expressed it. We don’t know until they actually have more review of this, but I’m hopeful that it’ll be in the shorter timeframe versus a longer time frame. Next question.

Mike McNeil –  12:46:24

This is Mike McNeil at Magnolia I have a question for Dr. Romero. Columbia County has a J and J vaccination clinic set for Thursday. What is this pause going to do to this clinic and others around the state that have set J&J clinics? Are these people there are these clinics going to proceed with a the different vaccine?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:46:48

Let me ask Colonel Ator to answer that place.

Col. Robert “Gator” Ator  12:46:53

So really, there should be no impact to that. We have plenty of vaccine to be able to back this up and so that J&J A vaccine clinic that was happening in Columbia County was coming from the local health unit. So we expect that we can backfill this with either  Pfizer or Madonna. We have plenty of both. And so we’ll we’ll make sure and we’ll work with them to make sure that they’re up and running and so the clinic can go forward.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:47:18

Next question.

Josh White – KAIT  12:47:20

Hey Governor, This is Josh White with KAIT. I was curious that, you were talking about the numbers going up and possibly starting to go up. One could look back at this and say that it coincides almost 14 days exactly to when you lifted the mask mandate.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:47:36

No, first, no, I don’t see any relationship there. And, again, there’s a very, very slight uptick for like two days in cases, we’ll see where the trend line is, but it’s really not enough to set a trend line yet. Next question. I think we’ve covered it. Did you have anything back at the table?

Josh White – KAIT  12:48:06

Well just in terms of the Johnson and Johnson, based on what Colonel Ator was saying, Do you expect any clinics to be canceled? Or do you think that any of the mass clinics that have been scheduled should be able to just switch out to different vaccine? …clarify, how hard is the pause in terms of providers? Like if somebody really wants the Johnson and Johnson vaccine? Are you telling the pharmacist they should not give it this point?

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:48:34

Well, it’s a CDC recommendation. And we are respecting that and we’re asking our providers to respect that as well. In terms of the other clinics that are out there. Obviously, we have the availability of Modern, and a Pfizer vaccine, so it’s there’s really a question of logistics and getting the new supply there. If they had scheduled it on a Janssen vaccine. Colonel, we’re going to make sure that’s taken care of so there’s not any delay.

Col. Robert “Gator” Ator  12:49:08

Very simply, I do think there may be a day delay, you know, in other words if, if they had  an event that was going to happen today or tomorrow, that there may be a slight, slight pause while we get the new vaccine to them.

Governor Asa Hutchinson  12:49:23

Thank you very much for attention today. And we’ll see you soon.