The vast majority of COVID-19 vaccinations in Arkansas have been for white individuals, according to new statistics from state officials.
As of Tuesday, April 6, Arkansas has received 1,881,900 total vaccine doses, and 1,276,675 doses have been administered to individuals for a 67.8 percent rate. Throughout the state, 357,280 individuals have been partially immunized while 477,857 have been fully immunized.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters on Tuesday that most of those vaccinations have gone to white Arkansans. He revealed that white Arkansans make up 77.5 percent of full vaccinations in the state; white Arkansans make up 81.4 percent of the state’s population.
By contrast, Arkansas’ second largest racial population has only 10 percent of full vaccinations. Black Arkansans only account for 10.3 percent of full vaccinations, while representing 15.3 percent of the state’s population.
According to Hutchinson, this indicated a hesitancy on the part of some population members to obtain a vaccine. “It shows that we have to continue to work to overcome a historic reservation and concerns about vaccination in the minority community,” Hutchinson said.
Asian Arkansans account for 1.1 percent of fully vaccinated individuals in the state. This group makes up 1.7 percent of Arkansas’ population. Pacific Islanders have 0.2 percent of the state’s fully vaccinated individuals and make up 0.4 percent of the state’s population.
“Other” racial groups make up 1.2 percent of the state’s population but have 2.8 percent of Arkansas’ fully vaccinated individuals. “Unknown” racial groups account for 8 percent of the state’s current fully vaccinated individuals.
Dr. Michelle Smith, the director of the Arkansas Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity, highlighted the state’s efforts to increase vaccination among minorities in Arkansas and addressed the challenges facing state officials.
“As vaccine distribution continues, ensuring racial equity is important for mitigating the disproportionate impact on people of color, preventing widening health disparities and achieving broad population immunity,” she said.
Health officials have warned about racial disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mayo Clinic, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated that non-Hispanic Black individuals and Hispanic/Latino individuals were 4.7 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people.
Emory University’s COVID-19 Health Equity Interactive Dashboard highlights the disparities in COVID-19 mortality among racial groups. Among racial groups in the United States, Black individuals have the second-highest mortality behind Native Americans. There are 106 Black deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to 95 white deaths per 100,00 residents. There are 121 Native American deaths, 59 Hispanic deaths and 68 Asian deaths per 100,000 residents.
To address potential vaccine inequity and ensure equal access, the Office of Health Equity established health strike teams in January 2021 to target “special populations,” including racial and ethnic minorities, disabled people, faith-based organizations, rural communities and elderly populations, for vaccine distribution.
“Teams are dispatched into counties that have low vaccination rates and they work with local leaders, including mayors, state representatives, church leaders and civic groups. They are comprised of nurses, health educators, public information specialist and lay community members with skill sets needed to foster community relationships, address hesitancy and encourage vaccine participation,” Smith said.
Smith told reporters than the strike teams had distributed 12,000 vaccines in Crittenden, Deshay, Jefferson, Pulaski, St. Francis and Sebastian counties. Smith looks for the team to increase their efforts with increased vaccine eligibility in Arkansas.
The goal, Smith said, is to administer 8,000 vaccines in April with 50 percent going to minorities and people of color. “With the elimination of phases and the hiring of 30 employees, additional health equity strike teams are being deployed in more locations across the state,” she said.