By Matthew Moore
Central Arkansas counties, especially those surrounding the capital city of Little Rock, are leading in the effort to vaccinate residents against COVID-19, especially with the help of online sign-up forms.
However, as of May 4, large counties such as Pulaski, home to Little Rock, do not have the highest percentage of its residents vaccinated. That distinction goes to more rural counties, primarily located in the southern part of the state. Desha County, a small county in the Arkansas Delta, has 35% of the county’s population fully vaccinated, ahead of the state average of 32%.
Sarah Parker a nurse administrator with the Desha County Health Unit, a division of the Arkansas Department of Health, credits local pharmacies in the county for the success. “They were the ones doing all the vaccines in the beginning,” Parker said. “But now every county has mass clinics sponsored by the ADH as well.”
Cheryl Stimson, owner of Dumas Family Pharmacy in Dumas, expressed that she was surprised at how well her county fared when compared to larger counties throughout the state. Her pharmacy provides Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as well as some of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
At first, Dumas Family Pharmacy keeps the scheduling system simple. “We started off with just a paper list… and we just kept calling people and getting them on the schedule,” Stimson said. “We have not used an electronic scheduling process because a lot of our people may not have a computer, may not have a smartphone, and unable to use that technology, or even understand it.”
The pharmacy made sure to have someone answering the phone to schedule appointments as well as calling people if they’re late for an appointment. She said she believes that personal connection in a rural community has led to their success. Dumas Family Pharmacy has moved away from their original pen and paper list since vaccine eligibility has been extended to all Arkansans over the age of 18.
One other statistic that stands out with vaccination rollout in Desha County is that 71% of people aged 65 and older have been fully vaccinated. “We worked really hard to get them that way,” Stimson said. “Even when the Governor opened it up, we made sure our people that were in the older age group got it first.”
Stimson said the vaccine hesitancy is more prevalent among younger people. “The younger crew aren’t coming like they should be, but the older crew they were looking for it, they were desperate for it, almost like a commodity. Everybody wanted it,”
Stimson said. Stimson said that the demand for vaccines has gone down significantly in the past two weeks.
“The people that wanted the vaccine already got it,” Stimson said. “There’s just some hesitancy with the rest of people, especially that 25- to 45-year-old age group.” Stimson reminds people that these vaccines are trustworthy, and while you may feel bad for a day of two following the shot, it’s certainly better than contracting COVID-19.