Sheryl Moore, a student at Shorter College in North Little Rock, on Thursday became the one millionth person to receive a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Arkansas.
At a commemoration ceremony at the Arkansas Department of Health building in Little Rock, Moore received her first COVID vaccine dose from Sherian Kwanisai, nursing director for the Arkansas Department of Health and the first Arkansan to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday.
“Sheryl said she’s a little bit nervous about this, but she represents one of the demographics — students, in that age group — that we really, really need to get vaccinated,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.
The process took about 30 seconds and looked like the administration of any other shot; Kwanisai rolled up Moore’s sleeve, sterilized Moore’s arm, stuck the needle in and pushed the plunger, covered the vaccination site with a cotton ball and applied a bandage.
Both Moore and Kwanisai received pins from the governor’s office for their participation in the state’s vaccination campaign. Cecilia Gonzales then became the 1,000,001th Arkansan to receive a COVID vaccine dose and was presented with a letter from the governor thanking her.
Miss Arkansas Darynne Dahlem also attended the vaccination commemoration. She said she has already been vaccinated against COVID-19 and encouraged other Arkansans to get their shots as well.
“Number one, it’s showing that you have support for your community, that you care about the community around you and that you’re doing your part to get us past this pandemic that we’ve been in for the past year,” she said. “It’s something that if you’re not afraid of needles, or even if you are, it’s done in maybe about two seconds and then you can go on about the rest of your day.”
Hutchinson highlighted a recent report from the United States Centers for Disease Control measuring the state’s performance in vaccinating the populace against COVID, noting that in many ways, the state is out-performing others in the region and even across the country.
“We got our first report card from the CDC on key performance indicators … and the key (vaccination program) performance indicators (are) on ordering, on inventory, on administration and on equity, and we compare ourselves with the region and with the United States. In terms of ordering, we are at the top. We’re way above the national average and our region as well,” he said. “In terms of administration, we’re doing well. But in terms of equity, we’re actually leading. We’re way above the national percentile for administration of the vaccine in an equitable fashion. Arkansas scores very well. “
The governor had noted on Tuesday, during his regular weekly COVID-19 update, that the gap between the percentages of the state’s white and Black populations being vaccinated had closed by 5.5% in about three weeks, after the state put a higher priority on ensuring equitable vaccine access.
However, Hutchinson said the state performed the worst on metrics measuring the state’s vaccine inventory, which he said is too large.
“Where we’re weak is that we’re starting to build up the inventory. We’ve ordered well, we have the supply here, but the demand is slackening off. So we’re working with our pharmacy partners, our medical providers to really reach out. We need everyone to participate in increasing the demand to get the shot,” he said.
Nevertheless, as he watched Moore receive her vaccine, Hutchinson said he was happy that the state is making progress toward getting past the pandemic.
“(I feel) really fantastic, because whenever you look at the population of Arkansas of three million, a little bit over, that means we’re at 33% of the entire population (having received a vaccine dose), and if you look at the vaccine-eligible population, we’re over 40%, so this is encouraging to me,” he said. “I want this over with. How I feel is I want vaccines in arms so we can turn the chapter in Arkansas history to move on from this pandemic. That’s how I feel, and I’m anxious to get from that 33% to all the way up to the highest level we can.”
He encouraged those who have been putting off their vaccination appointment to go ahead and get the shot as soon as they are able.
“The biggest reasons that I hear about not getting the vaccine is ‘I’ll just put it off,’” he said. “That time is really over with. With the confidence that’s built up, the medical information we have, the confidence (in the vaccine) is there.”
Several other Arkansans were also vaccinated at the ADH building Thursday morning, including Braeland Simms, ADH Nurse Coordinator for Family Health Cecilia Walker, Kesha Pilot and Amber Basham.
A vaccine clinic utilizing the Pfizer COVID vaccine will be held today at the Union County Local Health Unit at 301 American Rd. from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Additionally, next week, local health units across the state are slated to begin offering appointments to receive the Moderna COVID vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for anyone 16 and older, while the Moderna vaccine has been approved for those 18 and up. The state’s pause on use of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine was ongoing as of Thursday.
To schedule an appointment at the vaccine clinic, or an appointment for next week at the local health unit, call 1-800-985-6030. The vaccine will be provided at no cost to all who wish to take it, though those with insurance are asked to bring their cards.
COVID vaccines are also available in Union County at the Medical Center of South Arkansas, Melvin’s Discount Pharmacy and Walmart. To set an appointment at MCSA, call 870-863-2620; to do so at Melvin’s, call 870-863-4155; and for an appointment at Walmart, visit walmart.com/COVID.