The New Year has brought with it a glimpse of hope of eradicating COVID-19 from the American population. Recently, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) announced the COVID-19 vaccination schedule, and due to the limited supply of vaccinations available, Arkansas health officials have been tasked with the hard job of determining when, how and to whom the phases will be distributed. They have understandably prioritized essential workers who are frequently in high-risk exposure environments to receive the first round of vaccinations in specific phases. We have already started Phase 1-A and are quickly moving into Phase 1-B which will begin January 18. Phase 1-C will come next, with a schedule yet to be determined.
No matter which priority level applies to you, the vaccine will not cost you anything out-of-pocket because the federal government is paying for it. If you have health insurance, your carrier will be billed for administrative costs.
These vaccines are our greatest long-term defense against this pandemic and I urge you to get your vaccination when the opportunity arises. If you encounter anyone who is worried about getting vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control has a resource that addresses common questions about the side effects of the vaccines, which are all harmless.
How to get your Phase 1 Vaccination
I recently reached out to Matt Gilmore, Public Health Programs Policy Coordinator at ADH, to ask him a few questions regarding vaccine distribution, including how pharmacies were selected and how citizen can get safe, easy access to their vaccinations when their phase is activated.
He informed me that the ADH worked closely with the Arkansas Pharmacists Association to determine pharmacies based on storage and administration. Pharmacies that served local and rural hospitals were selected because they had mobile units and could travel across the state and move to the next hospital.
People in the current phase of distribution can call their local pharmacies to ask if they have the vaccine and some hospitals are doing this, as well. “I would still suggest they call ahead and see if the vaccine is available and to schedule a time,” suggests Gilmore. “Some pharmacies are even using online systems to do this. For people without access to the web, they can call, or ask a family member or friend to register their information for them, but many pharmacies are taking signups by phone.”
Updates on distribution are announced publicly through Governor Hutcinson’s press conferences and shared by statewide media through online publications and social media.
“We continue to work with our Office of Health Equity and Health Communications to get the word out about the vaccine and its effectiveness and safety,” assures Gilmore.
Until then, below is a breakdown of the population and timeline for each phase in Phase 1, along with a list of locations in our district where the vaccines will be available.
Phase 1-A is currently in action and includes health care workers on the front lines and staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Health care workers should have received a letter from the state Epidemiologist, Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, outlining the process. Also included in Phase 1-A are police, firefighters, and other first responders. This phase should be vaccinated by the end of January. If you are not in direct care of patients, the ADH asks that you wait until February to be vaccinated because of the initially limited supplies.
Examples of those who qualify for Phase 1-A:
Primary care clinics
Urgent care clinics
University health facilities
School health clinics
Home health care programs
Blood donation centers
Emergency technicians, paramedics, and transport of patients
If you work at a large hospital, you’ll get your shots there. The top priority is staff members of the 18 largest hospitals with the highest volume of Covid-19 patients. Those hospitals will receive doses of the vaccine directly.
If you work in a small hospital, you will be vaccinated through a community pharmacy. These pharmacies may perform vaccinations themselves or they may transfer doses of COVID-19 vaccine to your hospital, and then hospital staff can vaccinate their employees.
If you work in a pharmacy, a clinic, or another type of health care organization, you’ll get vaccinated at one of the 140 community pharmacies where doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are available.
If you work in a long-term care facility, you’ll probably get your shots when the pharmacy schedules vaccinations for the residents. If you are unable to be vaccinated at your place of work, contact one of your community pharmacies.
Additional information on the COVID-19 vaccine plan can be found at the Arkansas Department of Health website.
It may take a few months before there are enough vaccinations available for everyone to get one, but we have been battling this pandemic for almost a year now, so this is not the time to throw in the towel. If we work together and pay attention to doctors and health experts, it’s only a matter of time before we beat this thing.
As always, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator.