By Katie Beth Nichols
Arkansas continues to rank near the bottom of states in terms of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a condition that poses a risk for potent virus variants to spread, especially when fall classes resume, a top public health official said.
About 33% of the Arkansas adult population is fully vaccinated, third to last among the 48 contiguous states, according to June 17 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Meanwhile, a new “Delta” variant of the coronavirus, also known as B.1.617.2, is the most contagious yet, and it may be responsible for over 10% of new cases in the United States, according to the CDC.
Mark Williams, dean of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, believed the Delta variant likely is circulating in Arkansans.
“Whatever happens in Houston, New Orleans, and Dallas, because of the direct flights from there, and the major freeways coming through, I mean, we are not isolated,” Williams said. “So those viral variants will be here, eventually, and it will have an impact.”
Despite vaccination efforts, the state is still seeing an average of 168 new COVID-19 cases per day, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health and analysis from Arkansas Covid. Further, the low vaccination rate in the state, combined with the Delta variant posing a high infection risk for people age 20 and younger, could cause problems when school resumes in the Fall.
“So I would expect that when the fall term starts, if our vaccination rates in young people, 12 to 20, remain as low as they are now, we will see some consequences from the Delta variant,” he said.
Williams said the Arkansas public health community needs to aggressively market the vaccine to the public.
“Our public health officials in the state have a very difficult job because they’re trying to counter not just, what you might say, would be natural hesitancy to have a vaccine, but also the huge amount of misinformation that’s out there, that people seem to be paying attention to,” Williams said.
“It’s simply going to take incredibly sustained, and I think, persistent public health messaging; more than what we are doing,” Williams said.
Williams said the disease remains at a persistent level in the state and unless the vaccinations increase, it will remain a threat for some time to come.