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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Get a shot in the arm

by John Brummett | March 14, 2021 at 8:30 a.m.

The states' performances in delivering vaccines get ranked in several ways. By any averaging, Arkansas languishes in the bottom tier.

That's the case even as Gov. Asa Hutchinson makes the rounds of national talk shows to inject his term-limited self onto the national political scene by talking about how well he, and we, are doing.

He's not. We're not.

Statisticians at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assess state performance by the usage rate of received vaccines. Then there is the percentage of persons in eligible groups, which vary state by state, vaccinated either by one shot or two. There is that same percentage for the entire population.

In daily updated CDC data, our state has sunk as low as 48th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, besting only D.C. along with Alabama and Georgia. That was last week in a compilation of the percentage of vaccines the state had received that had been put into residents' arms.

That's a solid indicator. Eligible populations may vary, but the calculation of vaccines received and injections delivered is the best apple to apple.

On Wednesday, when numbers showed Arkansas to have received nearly 1.2 million vaccines and injected a little more than 700,000, I accompanied a loved one to an expansive and user-friendly vaccination clinic associated with a pharmacy in west Little Rock.

At 11:30 a.m., activity was light. It seemed to be picking up a little for the noon hour.

Two days before, to help make this family member an appointment on this facility's website, I had seen that nearly every time slot had openings. This was after the governor had expanded the eligible population because clinics had become lightly attended by persons in the 65-and-older groups.

Part of the problem is that too many Arkansas people seem to lack the sense to come in out of the pandemic. Too many decline on silly, fearful and misguided reasoning to sit for a quick and easy vaccination shown to be fully safe and more effective than any garden-variety annual flu vaccine.

You can't achieve meaningful herd immunity if your herd is half-size because of rampant strays. And people were speculating last week that, at the current rate, Arkansas might be lucky to get half its people vaccinated.

The nation is aiming for 70 percent at least, and it is clear that some of the more progressive, well-off states will get there and beyond.

It's a common refrain: States with high percentages of persons of high income and more education tend to score better on most indicators than those without.

Another part of the problem in Arkansas has been that people are not universally well-informed about sometimes-obscure available sites or widely proficient in making online appointments. Arkansas remains on the darker side of the digital divide.

The rest of the problem is that our state government has been oddly passive and plodding, or at least devoid of any seeming sense of urgency.

Some Arkansas residents younger than 65 and with medical conditions have gone to surrounding states where they could get shots not yet authorized for them at home.

Let me tell you, then, about someone who is clearly demonstrating a sense of urgency. That would be Joe Biden, or at least his administration.

States will be flooded with millions of vaccines weekly beginning perhaps by the end of this month and certainly in April. Biden promises a vaccine for every eligible arm by June. He said in a televised message Thursday night that he wants states to phase out vaccinations by groups and open things up for everybody by May 1.

We soon will no longer need categories of priority. We will need big numbers.

Arkansas needs to get in high gear, which would mean full-population eligibility on a first-come, first-serve basis at highly publicized and well-known large venues.

It would mean walk-in clinics at community gathering places. It would mean mobile units going with some measure of fanfare into disadvantaged neighborhoods, which are beset with higher infection rates and lower vaccination rates. It would mean personnel to execute efficient processes.

That's a lot, but defeating the virus to restore normalcy is merely the call to action for a generation.

We could always tell the Biden administration to send some of our vaccines to a poor Third World country that might give a darn.

My tentative over-under on the eventually vaccinated population of Arkansas is 49.4 percent. I'd love to find reason to revise that number dramatically upward and to be rendered ashamed for my lack of faith.

Let's set an urgent goal to leave no Arkansas arm un-punctured by June 1.

Let's get over such notions as that the vaccine contains a chip that is a tracking device. It's true that I've been tracked ever since I got my first shot. But it's been by my phone.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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