A day after Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that Arkansas would offer lottery tickets and gift certificates for hunting and fishing licenses as rewards for people who get coronavirus vaccinations, some health care providers said Wednesday they had yet to see an increase in people seeking the shots.
At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' vaccination clinic in Little Rock, which has been averaging about 100 Pfizer shots a day, including first and second doses, the patient volume was about the same as usual, university spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said.
"We did have one person who showed up when the clinic opened and was asking for his lottery ticket, and when we didn't have a lottery ticket to give him, he decided he didn't want the shot and left," Taylor said.
She said demand for the shots also hadn't picked up at the university's Northwest Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, where a drive-thru vaccination clinic has been averaging about 40 shots a day.
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Meanwhile, the state's count of coronavirus cases rose Wednesday by 183 -- a smaller increase than the one a day earlier and the previous Wednesday.
After rising to 200 Tuesday, the number of people hospitalized in the state with covid-19 fell by 11, to 189.
The state's death toll from the virus, as tracked by the Department of Health, rose by three, to 5,827.
Under the incentive program announced Tuesday, a person who receives a vaccine dose Wednesday or later will be able to claim one of two rewards: a $20 scratch-off ticket from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, or two Game and Fish Commission gift certificates worth a total of $21.
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People can take their vaccination cards to one of the Health Department's 92 local health units around the state to claim one of the prizes starting Tuesday of next week.
"I am so sure more vaccinations are the key to beating COVID that we are offering a @MyARLottery ticket or @ARGameandFish certificate for fishing/hunting licenses for those who take a shot," Hutchinson said in a tweet Wednesday, adding, "50% of Arkansas adults have had at least 1 shot, but today's numbers show that's not enough."
Arkansas Pharmacists Association CEO John Vinson said he had been fielding questions from pharmacists about the incentive program, including from some who didn't realize that people can't claim their prizes until Tuesday.
"I'm hopeful that it will make a difference," Vinson said of the incentives.
"There certainly was a buzz and excitement yesterday in the pharmacy community, and I know there are patients asking about it when they go to their pharmacy, because otherwise I wouldn't be getting all these calls and texts."
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He said he was concerned that people having to go to a local health unit to claim the reward might make the incentive less effective than programs in other states.
In Ohio, for instance, people who have received at least one vaccine dose can register online or over the phone for a weekly drawing for $1 million.
Unlike Arkansas' program, Ohio's isn't limited to people who received their shots after the incentive program was announced.
"I don't know how many people will take the time to go and claim" a reward under Arkansas' program, Vinson said.
"You've got hoops to jump through."
He added that claiming the rewards will be more difficult for people who are homebound or lack transportation.
At its weekly vaccination clinic in Jonesboro, St. Bernards Healthcare was on track to give first or second Pfizer doses to about 200 people, which is about the same number it gave last week, spokesman Mitchell Nail said.
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"I can't say that we've had necessarily more calls as a result of" the incentive program, Nail said.
"We do welcome any incentives that might push somebody over the edge in terms of their decision of whether to get it," he added.
Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said the department administered 10 doses of the Moderna vaccine and six of Johnson & Johnson's at an event at the Saline County fairgrounds in Benton on Wednesday where the Central Arkansas Development Council distributed 500 boxes of food to low-income families.
The department also gave Johnson & Johnson shots to five people at a clinic in the parking lot of War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, she said.
Statewide, the department reported that the number of vaccine doses that had been administered, including second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, rose Wednesday by 8,601.
That was down by almost 1,200 from the number reported a week earlier.
After rising a day earlier, the average number of doses administered each day over a rolling seven-day period fell by 170, to 8,180.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Arkansans who had received at least one vaccine dose rose Wednesday by 4,722, to 1,174,803, representing about 38.9% of the state's population.
The number who had been fully vaccinated rose by 5,375, to 920,647, or 30.5% of the population.
Among the states and District of Columbia, Arkansas continued to rank 44th in the percentage of its residents who had received at least one vaccine dose and 49th, behind only Alabama and Mississippi, in the percentage who were fully vaccinated.
Nationally, 49.7% of people had received at least one vaccine dose, and 39.7% were fully vaccinated.
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Also Wednesday, the CDC released data on antibodies found in laboratory blood samples, tested as part of an ongoing survey, indicating that an estimated 789,537 Arkansans have been infected with the coronavirus at some point since the start of the pandemic.
That's more than double the 340,698 cases in the state that had been identified as of Wednesday through diagnostic tests, typically conducted by taking a nasal swab when someone gets sick or was near someone else known to have covid-19.
The latest estimate was based on blood samples collected April 5-18 for routine medical screenings unrelated to covid-19.
The estimated number of infections was up by more than 80,000 from the CDC's previous estimate, based on samples collected March 22-April 4.
The latest estimate represents about 26.4% of Arkansas' population.
Among the 49 states for which the estimates were available, that was the 14th-highest percentage.
Texas has the highest percentage, 33.9%, while Vermont had the lowest, just 2.4%.
The CDC didn't have enough samples from North Dakota to generate an estimate for that state.
Nationally, 22% of the population was estimated to have been infected.
Among the age groups for which estimates were given, the rate of infection was highest in Arkansas among people age 18-49, with an estimated 31.6% of people in that age group having past infections.
The rate was 30.9% for Arkansans under age 18, 19.5% for those age 50-64, and 15% for those 65 and older.
State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said the estimates are based on tests for antibodies produced in response to infection but not vaccination.
"I think it just shows that we have three-quarters of the population who have no immunity unless they get vaccinated," Dillaha said.
Although they have some immunity, people who have been infected in the past should also get vaccinated to reduce the chance of reinfection, she said.
"There have been well-documented cases of people being infected with covid-19 twice, and it's unlikely that people develop lasting immunity from natural infection," she said.
She said other coronaviruses cause about 30% of common colds, "and we know that humans do not develop lasting immunity to those coronaviruses."
"They can get them again and again, and it's likely the same with the virus that causes covid-19," Dillaha said.
FEWER ON VENTILATORS
The number of the state's virus patients who were on ventilators fell for the second straight day Wednesday, going from 37 as of Tuesday to 33.
Wednesday's increase in cases was smaller by 61 than the one a week earlier. It followed an increase of 329 Tuesday, which was the state's largest one-day increase in more than a month.
As on Tuesday, the Health Department's daily report on the number of test results it had received was down compared with a week earlier.
The department said Wednesday that it had received the results of 2,705 polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests and antigen tests that had been performed Tuesday, which was more than 1,000 fewer than the number it reported a week earlier.
The cases that were added to the state's tallies Wednesday included 112 that were confirmed through PCR tests.
The other 71 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through antigen tests.
The number of cases that were considered active fell by 15, to 1,975, as recoveries outpaced new cases.
Pulaski County had the most new cases, 35, followed by Benton County with 21, and Lonoke County with 15.
Among prison and jail inmates, the Health Department's count of cases rose by one.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Cindy Murphy said the state's prisons didn't have any new cases among inmates Wednesday.
The state's death toll rose by two, to 4,623, among confirmed cases and by one, to 1,204 among probable cases.
Among nursing home and assisted living facility residents, the state's count of virus deaths rose by one, to 2,090.
The number of people who have ever been hospitalized in the state with covid-19 grew by 13, to 16,264.
The number of the state's virus patients who have ever been on ventilators with covid-19 rose by one, to 1,658.