Col. Robert Ator will be coordinating the State of Arkansas’ vaccine distribution program.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson named Ator as the program manager for the ongoing distribution program on Tuesday, Jan. 12 during the state’s weekly COVID-19 press briefing. In this capacity, Ator will oversee the logistics for vaccine distribution, as well as serving as a liaison between state agencies in coordinating, sharing information and collecting data.
A retired U.S. Air Force Wing Commander, Ator is the director of military affairs for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. He previously commanded the 189th Airlift Wing at the Little Rock Air Force Base.
“Colonel Ator is the right person for this urgent mission,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “As wing commander, he oversaw more than a thousand airmen along with planes and equipment worth more than $2 billion. C-130 cargo planes often are involved in humanitarian missions, and there is no more pressing humanitarian need than getting this vaccine to Arkansas citizens.”
Ator will be implementing the state’s vaccine distribution plan, which is slated to be released on Friday, Jan. 15. While the Arkansas Department of Health is leading the COVID-19 public health emergency response, Hutchinson said that he was enlisting the aid of local military officials to provide logistics support for the distribution effort.
“This is a whole of state government effort. Whenever we need the logistics support, the technical support, the planning capabilities of the military, we’re utilizing it,” Hutchinson said.
According to Hutchinson, the vaccine distribution plan is still being developed. He held up a draft of the plan during the press conference, stating that it was on track for completion.
Major General Kendall Penn, Arkansas National Guard adjutant general, is helping develop the distribution plan along with Department of Health secretary Dr. Jose Romero and Arkansas Division of Emergency Management head A.J. Gary. Penn outlined a series of issues that would be addressed in the distribution plan.
One of the major issues facing vaccine distribution, according to Penn, is increasing the state’s capacity and ensuring that there will be a sufficient number of organizations and individuals capable of administering the vaccines.
“As we were looking at what needed to be done in large, broad terms, we realized that to make this an efficient process, we needed to increase the capacity for getting vaccine across the state. We looked at what we needed to do to enroll more hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, as well as, in some cases, private industry [that] have their own health units, and bring all of them into the fold and make them eligible to give the vaccine,” he said.
Capacity was the major issue that Ator mentioned when discussing his role in the distribution effort. To combat capacity issues, Ator said that he would be taking “all-state government approach,” using multiple state agencies, including the Arkansas Department of Commerce and the Arkansas Military Department, to coordinate and implement the plan.
“The problem that we’re seeing is that as we go into the different phases and we expand the vaccination program, one of the things we’re going to have to work on is capacity. We’re using an all-state government approach to how we go about doing that,” he said.
Kendall said that the plan will also establish an information management system that will enable the state to track the amount of vaccine is on hand, where vaccine doses are and how much vaccine has been distributed. It will also create a “strike team” that will be able to perform vaccine clinics to administer doses throughout the state.