Arkansas is awaiting 24,000 doses of the new one-shot Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine and expects to receive them by the end of this week, state Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said Monday.
The vials' final destinations within the state have not yet been determined, she said.
"We are working on the plan. We're just not ready to announce it," she said.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna alternatives, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine doesn't require storage in ultra-cold freezers. It can be safely kept in a refrigerator for months without losing its efficacy, officials say.
Roughly one in 10 Arkansans has already been infected with covid-19.
The new vaccine is arriving at a time when active covid-19 cases are sharply declining in Arkansas.
The reported number of new cases rose by 94 Monday, bringing the total cases to 322,509. The last time the state had fewer than 100 new cases was in May last year.
Total deaths increased by seven to 5,250.
Active cases dropped by 157 to 4,242.
Pulaski County led the state with 22 new cases announced Monday, followed by Craighead (15), Benton (9), Lonoke (9), and Saline (7) and Washington (7) counties.
The number of current covid-19 hospitalizations fell 14 to 441, with 84 of them on ventilators, down one from Sunday. Since the start of the pandemic, covid-19 has resulted in 14,764 hospitalizations; 1,516 of the patients have ended up on ventilators.
In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson highlighted the positive covid-19 trends.
"There are fewer cases with higher testing today compared to last week," he said.
"We're continuing to vaccinate Arkansans, and we will be able to increase our doses administered once we receive our first shipment of the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine, which is expected later this week."
Perhaps half of all Arkansans 70 and older have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines that are available, Dillaha said.
Arkansans 65 and older make up 17.4% of the population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. But they account for 81.6% of all covid-19 deaths.
Last week, Hutchinson announced that he was expanding eligibility to Arkansas residents ages 65-69.
Dillaha is hopeful that by sometime this summer any Arkansan who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.
Rather than insisting on a particular brand name, Dillaha recommends that people take any of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines that become available to them.
"We now have three safe vaccines that work. And so we encourage people to take advantage of getting vaccinated when it's their turn," she said. "If additional vaccines are eventually made available, that would be wonderful. They are all being held to the same rigorous, strict standards by the FDA."
Thus far, 989,580 doses of vaccine have been received by or allocated to Arkansas. Of those, 636,600 doses have been given.
State programs have received 902,020 doses and given 593,908. Another 87,560 have been allocated by federal programs for Arkansas. Of those, 42,692 have been given, state officials said.
After sounding the pandemic alarm for nearly a year and delivering day after day of discouraging news, Dillaha said she is glad she can share encouraging news about infection rates and vaccination supplies.
"It's very pleasing," she said. "I'm somewhat of a reserved person, but I was doing a little bit of a happy dance today."
"All of these indicators show that we're headed in the right direction," she said.
Asked whether the latest numbers suggest that the worst of the pandemic may be behind us, Dillaha said, "Well, that is certainly something that we hope for."
The number of cases may rise if Arkansans fail to follow Health Department guidelines, she said. A lack of social distancing, she said, could fuel a resurgence.
Covid-19 trends could also be reversed if the virus changes, she noted.
"We're also concerned about whether any of the variants ... from the United Kingdom or Brazil or South Africa or elsewhere have increased transmissibility," she said. "If they're more transmissible, then we could also see an increase in cases."
Nearly a year after the declaration of a public health emergency in Arkansas, it's still important for people to remain vigilant, she said.
Distractions, she suggested, could have unpleasant consequences.
"We've all seen people running a race, and when they get near to the finish line they start looking around and then they don't end up winning," she said. "We need to make sure we stay really focused on getting to the other side of this pandemic, and not let up too soon."