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Health officials stress wider eligibility for vaccines

by Cassidy Kendall | April 3, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.
Volunteer Bill Kemp fills a syringe with the Pfizer vaccine during a vaccination clinic hosted by Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic inside the Hot Springs Convention Center on March 25. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

Any Arkansan aged 16 and older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and Garland County is in desperate need of more people to sign up for immunizations at one of the regularly scheduled clinics, officials said this week.

County vaccination coordinator and pharmacist Dr. Cody Turner said currently 15% of all residents have been vaccinated, which includes 19% of residents older than 18 and 42% of residents older than 65.

According to the release, there are COVID-19 vaccination clinics every Tuesday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Fordyce Room of the Ouachita Professional Building, 1900 Malvern Ave. Appointments are required, and vaccines are available at no cost to anyone who meets the criteria according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

To schedule an appointment, visit https://www.eastgatepharmacy.com/covid-19-vaccine-scheduler.

Additionally, CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs is offering vaccinations five days a week at three different Hot Springs clinic locations. Visit chistvincent.com/getmyshot or call 501-622-6556 to begin the scheduling process. Registration will call the patient back to schedule an appointment time.

Turner, who runs the vaccination clinic in the Ouachita Professional Building at National Park Medical Center, said only about 100 of his 200 available appointments are being booked.

"It's hard to determine if it's an issue with demand, or just awareness of eligibility," he said.

"My biggest call to action would be to make sure everyone is aware that if you are over the age of 16, you are eligible to receive the vaccine. There are no health requirements, occupation requirements."

Turner said he is asking everyone to spread awareness that anyone over 16 is eligible to receive the vaccine.

"From what I've gathered talking to people in our community is that they've been bombarded with information talking about the vaccine for the last two whole months that now even the people who have wanted the vaccine are just tuning out the information and not even realizing that they're eligible to get the vaccine now," he said.

Meanwhile, Garland County Health Officer Dr. Gene Shelby urged people at the March 29 Hot Springs/Garland County COVID-19 Task Force meeting to continue safe practices.

According to a task force news release, like the recent national trend, the county experienced a slight uptick in new cases last week, despite having fewer tests.

In Shelby's COVID-19 statistic update for the week of March 21-28, he said there were 47 new cases, or 6.7 cases per day, compared to the previous week's 41 total cases/5.9 per day average, the release said. The total number of test results for the county was 1,471, which Shelby said is the lowest it has been in months.

"The rate of positivity was 3.2%, up from the previous week's 2.3%," the release said. "The number of active cases at the time of the meeting was 32, down from 69 at the same time the previous week; however, Shelby said this might be a result of fewer tests being done over spring break. There were six COVID-related deaths reported last week.

"Shelby hopes to continue to get the message out that wearing a face mask will still be considered best practice, despite the statewide mask mandate being changed to a guideline on April 1. He said that the coronavirus variant from Britain is in the state, and that it is known to be around 50% more contagious than the original version of the virus," the release said.

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