In Arkansas, Covid-19 cases surge as state combats vaccine skepticism

In Arkansas, Covid-19 cases surge as state combats vaccine skepticism

Posted: Jul 12, 2021 10:10 AM
Updated: Jul 12, 2021 10:10 AM

In Arkansas, the fight against both the deadly Covid-19 Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy starts one person at a time, meeting them where they are. Sometimes, that's at church.

At St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Little Rock's Southwest side, Oscar Martinez was seizing his chance at a pop-up vaccine clinic in a gymnasium on Saturday afternoon, sponsored by the University of Arkansas of Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Mexican Consulate -- a direct attempt to reach out to the area's Latino population.

"I have been visiting the region for the last month, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity today," Martinez told CNN.

Officials in the state are pulling out the stops to get people vaccinated. Arkansas not only has one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country -- only about a third of eligible people are fully vaccinated -- but is facing a troubling uptick in Covid-19 cases - fueled mostly by the emerging Delta variant of the virus.

"There's no question about it, our level of vaccination is not where we want it to be," Dr. Jose Romero, the Arkansas Secretary of Health, told CNN. "We have one third of our population fully immunized. But we need to get much higher levels in order to bring this under control."

The reasons that experts say people aren't getting the vaccine in Arkansas are varied. They cite pregnant women who are concerned about the impact of the vaccine on them and their unborn children, or people who want to see further FDA approval of the vaccines beyond the current emergency use authorizations. But there are also those who believe in conspiracy theories about the vaccine, the experts said.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. knows that skepticism well. It was something he grappled with himself.

"I'm someone, as a Black male, who has some heart burns about it," Scott said. "When you think about the Tuskegee (experiment), the HeLa cells, and that disheartening history of the past. I'm also someone who had never taken a flu shot."

But after losing family members to Covid, Scott said he found it even more important to encourage people to get the vaccine.

"I took the time as a leader to do the research," he said, "to get to understanding, and to be a leader and demonstrate to the residents of Little Rock that I wouldn't ask them to do anything that I wasn't willing to do."

Experts say their messaging to minority populations faces challenges, citing the state's Latino populations that often live in more rural areas difficult to reach, have concerns about missing work, or face their own doubts about the vaccine.

Dr. Gloria Richard-Davis, a doctor at UAMS, focuses her work on reaching out to those groups. It's about making the vaccine accessible within the community, she said.

"A lot of celebrities are coming out saying get the vaccine, the average person is not listening to them," she said. "So, we're trying to understand who the everyday influences are for our community and the community health workers are part of that because they live and breathe."

Aside from community members helping to share accurate information, the state government is trying to do its part. Governor Asa Hutchinson is in the midst of a tour around Arkansas hosting town halls where he takes questions about the vaccine, and the state health department has released public service announcements featuring former vaccine skeptics speaking about their change of perspective.

Another is ensuring people are able to get time off work to get their vaccines -- a major concern among communities of color, Richard-Davis said.

"We're working with employers to try and get them to allow that time for vaccination or if someone happens to have adverse events that they don't feel like going into work the next day, that there's some flexibility that there's some leeway," Richard-Davis said.

When it comes to the FDA's approval of the current vaccines beyond emergency use authorization, Dr. Robert Hopkins -- a UAMS doctor who also serves as the chair of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee -- said that he is hopeful it could come "fairly soon."

"I know that there's been regular communication between the Pfizer, the Moderna, and the Johnson and Johnson folks, and the FDA," he told CNN. "I think that that would help at least with a part of our population that's been hesitant, to know that this vaccine has full approval."

The outreach seems to be working. At St. Theresa's, Minerva Mendoza brought her 13-year-old daughter Mary Lara to get her vaccine.

"My position on the vaccine is that we can't just sit around and wait to get sick and then regret not getting inoculated," she told CNN. "Right now, it's about everybody pitching in and overcoming any fears about the vaccine so we can pull ourselves out of this pandemic."

The-CNN-Wire
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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 947918

Reported Deaths: 15377
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1291181990
Lake635721103
Allen53899761
Hamilton44082449
St. Joseph42122590
Elkhart33803491
Vanderburgh30574449
Tippecanoe26915251
Johnson23727418
Hendricks22410342
Porter21832347
Clark17562231
Madison17492385
Vigo16302285
Monroe14545191
LaPorte14389239
Delaware14183222
Howard13971273
Kosciusko11498135
Hancock10935166
Warrick10737178
Bartholomew10635170
Floyd10514208
Wayne10077226
Grant9213204
Morgan8928160
Boone8463111
Dubois7791123
Dearborn769490
Henry7691133
Noble7466101
Marshall7409128
Cass7219118
Lawrence7026153
Shelby6647111
Jackson661386
Gibson6190107
Harrison609386
Huntington604495
Montgomery5853105
DeKalb581091
Knox5535104
Miami548888
Putnam543268
Clinton537465
Whitley529354
Steuben501768
Wabash488692
Jasper483861
Jefferson474492
Ripley457777
Adams446068
Daviess4231108
Scott409165
Clay394957
White393858
Greene393392
Wells389884
Decatur388797
Fayette378578
Posey362341
Jennings356056
Washington334747
LaGrange325175
Spencer321136
Fountain318455
Randolph317190
Sullivan309449
Owen287064
Starke282864
Fulton280454
Orange277859
Jay257038
Perry254152
Carroll245229
Franklin242838
Rush237030
Vermillion235050
Parke221420
Tipton212055
Pike211740
Blackford170534
Pulaski168551
Crawford147318
Newton145845
Benton143916
Brown135846
Martin130217
Switzerland126910
Warren115616
Union98511
Ohio80511
Unassigned0482

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1380370

Reported Deaths: 21820
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1534461574
Cuyahoga1354332341
Hamilton984041326
Montgomery677001161
Summit566391051
Lucas51349869
Butler47858663
Stark42048983
Lorain31922539
Warren30328338
Mahoning27315643
Clermont25897297
Lake24746422
Delaware22501147
Licking20701246
Fairfield20658223
Greene20527275
Trumbull20127516
Medina20006290
Clark18086332
Richland16602236
Portage16305231
Wood15869209
Allen14257261
Miami13963261
Muskingum12858155
Wayne12126244
Columbiana11896242
Tuscarawas11103271
Marion10865150
Pickaway10580129
Scioto10477127
Erie9822171
Ross9566177
Lawrence8886125
Hancock8567143
Ashtabula8423187
Geauga8226156
Belmont8221188
Jefferson7635175
Huron7507131
Union740751
Washington7334126
Athens705965
Sandusky6925135
Darke6853137
Knox6762122
Seneca6496137
Ashland6035115
Auglaize593188
Shelby5796104
Brown572972
Mercer563690
Defiance5538101
Crawford5530117
Madison549371
Highland548082
Fulton539583
Clinton532081
Logan516987
Preble5058111
Putnam4876107
Guernsey480664
Williams466482
Perry459054
Champaign452264
Ottawa441384
Jackson432963
Pike397045
Morrow393851
Coshocton386669
Fayette381753
Adams366875
Hardin363970
Gallia352858
Holmes3297111
Henry328869
Van Wert318871
Hocking308070
Wyandot284558
Carroll265452
Paulding245143
Meigs220242
Monroe191949
Noble172942
Morgan169429
Harrison160041
Vinton140619
Unassigned05
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Showers Saturday morning with breezy and drier conditions by the afternoon.
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