BENTONVILLE -- Some first-responders in Northwest Arkansas have already received their first dose of the covid-19 vaccine.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first-responders would be included in the Phase 1A group of individuals who are the first to get vaccinated. Others in the Phase 1A group include health care workers and residents and workers at long-term care facilities.
Rogers Fire Chief Tom Jenkins said some of his firefighters received the first dose of the vaccine last week.
"We have administered around 75 vaccinations, which represents around 50 percent of the department," Jenkins said.
The department did an initial survey and 40 percent of firefighters wanted the vaccine; 30 percent did not want it; and the other 30 percent was undecided, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said they did an extensive educational effort that included written information and online sessions with a pharmacist and doctor, he said.
"Our first obligation was to provide as much information about the vaccine and the second one to make it available," Jenkins said.
The department was able to convert 10 percent of the firefighters who were in the undecided category, he said
Jenkins said their non-firefighting personnel are also considered essential workers and he believes the vaccine will be available to them later in the month.
Firefighters in Springdale also began receiving the vaccine before Monday's announcement. Capt. Matt Bagley said some firefighters, who are also trained and serve as emergency medical technicians for the department's ambulance service, received the vaccine as early as Dec. 18.
Bagley said when the vaccine was being administered at a Springdale hospital the department was notified when doses were available. Once a vial of the vaccine is opened all of the contents must be used, he said.
Bagley said the final round of the first dose will be completed by the end of this week. He said those who received the first dose in December should be receiving the second dose next week.
In Fayetteville, a program to administer the vaccine to firefighters is already completed. Battalion Chief Brian Sloat said 78 of the 115 employees of the Fire Department chose to receive the vaccine. The program is voluntary. Sloat said the department has had about 20 firefighters who tested positive for the covid-19 virus or who were quarantined after being in close contact with someone who had the virus.
Steve Harrison with Central Emergency Medical Services, which provides ambulance service to most of Washington County, said the ambulance crews were always in the Phase 1A group and those employees began getting the vaccine in December. He said dispatchers and office staff can now be vaccinated.
Harrison said CEMS has about 130 employees. Since the pandemic began in mid-March of 2020, he said, the service has had about a dozen employees who tested positive for the virus. Harrison said there was no indication any of those positive tests resulted from with a patient.
Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell with the Washington County Sheriff's Office, said some employees have already been vaccinated.
"The local pharmacy called us and said they had some extras and did we have anybody we could send over," Cantrell said. "We got about 30 people vaccinated last Thursday."
Cantrell said the Sheriff's Office is waiting for the pharmacy to receive additional doses. He said the remainder of the roughly 290 employees who choose to be vaccinated could be taken care of by the end of this week.
"We'd like for 100% of our people to get it but we know that's not realistic," Cantrell said, noting people may object to vaccines for a variety of reasons from religious beliefs to health concerns. "We're hoping for at least 75%."
Cantrell said the Sheriff's Office has had about 60 employees test positive for the virus or be quarantined after being in close contact with someone who tested positive.
Cantrell said the vaccine won't be offered to inmates at the Washington County Detention Center. As of Monday, he said, only three inmates were in quarantine. That number had reached between 160 and 170 at its highest and has fallen and risen over the months since the pandemic began in March.
"It's a very fluid population," Cantrell said. "They come and they go so often that with this two-dose vaccine they might not be here long enough to get the second dose."
Sgt. Anthony Murphy with the Fayetteville Police Department said the department has been notified that its 130 employees are eligible to receive the vaccines but hasn't yet begun the process.
The Springdale Police Department was able to have some employees vaccinated through a local hospital when there were extra doses available. Lt. Jeff Taylor said the department is working to get vaccinations for the 148 employees who chose to participate.
In Farmington, Chief Brian Hubbard said his 18 officers are waiting for a local pharmacy to get a supply of the vaccine.
"It could be just any time," Hubbard said.
Hubbard said two of his officers have tested positive for covid-19 since the pandemic began.
"They said they wouldn't wish it on anybody," Hubbard said.
Hubbard said officers worked extra to fill in the gaps while a few other officers were in quarantine.
"Any time you lose anybody, it's a disruption," he said. "I know that I share the same concerns as all the larger departments. I just have a few less people."
Bentonville Police Chief Jon Simpson said some of his officers began to receive the vaccination Monday thanks to Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville.
Simpson said for privacy reasons they are not maintaining the count regarding who gets the vaccine.
Simpson said the department has 119 total employees with 85 being sworn law enforcement officers.
He estimated half of the employees wanted to have the vaccine.
Bentonville Fire Chief Brent Boydston said his firefighters and paramedics started getting the vaccine about three weeks ago when Northwest Medical Center made it available to the department.
Boydston estimated 50 percent of the department's 110 firefighters and paramedics received the vaccine.
He said the department provided personnel with information on the vaccine from the Arkansas Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and then the firefighters and paramedics made their decisions.
Lt. Shannon Jenkins, the spokeswoman for the Benton County Sheriff's Office, said deputies have not yet started receiving the vaccine. Jenkins said the Sheriff's Office is working on coordinating when deputies will be able to obtain the vaccine. She said once the date is cleared then deputies can voluntarily go get the vaccine.
Jenkins said she has not heard when the vaccine will be offered to inmates.
Hundreds of inmates in the Benton County Jail have tested positive for the virus with one being hospitalized since June.
Covid-19 vaccination plan
Arkansas has set up a phased plan to make vaccinations for the covid-19 virus available. The first phase, Phase 1A, is underway and will provide vaccinations to health care workers, residents and workers at long-term care facilities, and first responders, including police and firefighters. Phase 1A includes about 180,000 people and should be completed by the end of January, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Information about the plan and the later phases can be found on the state Health Department’s website at www.healthy.arkansas.gov.
Source: Staff report