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Arkansas Expands Vaccine Eligibility to 180K More People

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Arkansas on Monday expanded eligibility for coronavirus vaccines to another 180,000 people, making the shots available to a wide group that includes manufacturing workers and essential government employees.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state would fully open up the vaccine to the remainder of the 1B category under the state’s vaccination plan. The move also opens up the vaccine to those working in manufacturing, public transportation and at grocery stores. Hutchinson also said people with developmental and intellectual disabilities will now be eligible for the vaccine.

Arkansas had previously made the vaccine available to those at least 65 years old and several other groups, including teachers, health care workers and law enforcement. The governor last week also made the vaccine available to workers at poultry plants and other food manufacturing facilities.

Hutchinson said the decision came after there was not the demand expected when the state held vaccination clinics over the weekend.

“We have to keep the demand for the vaccines up,” Hutchinson said. “We have to keep the lines full because people want access to the vaccines and we want to make sure we get them out as fast as we can, in 72 hours into the arms of Arkansans.”

The Health Department said Monday nearly more than 742,000 of the 1.2 million vaccine doses the state has received have been given so far.

The state reported its virus cases rose by 133 to 324,951 total since the pandemic began. Its COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by three to 338. The state reported 24 more COVID-19 deaths, though Hutchinson said 15 of them were late reporting from either January or 2020. The state’s COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began total 5.343.

Hutchinson also announced Arkansas was setting up a statewide vaccination scheduling system people can call toll-free to make an appointment. Up to 30 employees will be staffing a call center for the system, the governor said.

The expanded eligibility does not include food service workers, despite the state last month lifting most of its restrictions including capacity limits on restaurants and bars. They are currently in the 1C category, which Hutchinson said he hoped to make eligible by next month.

The expanded eligibility also includes legislators, judges and court personnel. It comes days after Hutchinson rejected an order by the state Supreme Court to make judges, prosecutors and others in the judicial system immediately eligible. Hutchinson said the court did not have the authority to order the vaccine available for itself and others in the judicial system.

“What we can’t have is people self-determine as to when they’re going to move up in the line,” he told reporters.

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