UPDATED: Gov. Hutchinson encourages vaccinations in 'Community Conversation' at Chickasaw Arena
The battle against COVID-19 hesitancy continued July 13 as Governor Asa Hutchinson visited Chickasaw Arena to discuss the importance of being vaccinated and to understand why some are still uncertain about it.
Hutchinson stated that only 35 percent of the state has been fully vaccinated, as compared to a 48 percent average for the country. On a more local level, approximately 47 percent of Blytheville citizens are fully vaccinated, while the total for Mississippi County sits at approximately 28 percent.
He also confirmed that over 57 percent of new Covid cases in the state are from the Delta variant, which is twice as likely to cause hospitalization.
With low vaccination rates across the state, and one variant already making an impact, Hutchinson detailed the urgency of getting more people vaccinated.
“School is starting one month from now,” Hutchinson said. “We had a good school year last year with many challenges. And we’re going to have a good school year coming up. But an ingredient in doing so is increasing the vaccination rate. With the Delta variant out there, if our teachers, staff and students don't have a higher rate, we’ll have more challenges. The variant is gaining ground and this is an urgent situation because the solution is available.”
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero was also in attendance and confirmed that the current vaccines are capable and effective in battling Covid and the Delta variant. However, if vaccine rates remain the same, the virus will be able to mutate even more.
“Everytime it spreads it has a chance to mutate,” Romero said. “At this time, we’re capable of tackling the virus and the variants that exist, but it’s up to us to take the vaccine. There is a theoretical possibility in the future that [the current vaccine could be ineffective against other variants]. But we can stop it from doing that here in our country by having the majority of us take the vaccine.”
For those who have already contracted the virus before, antibodies are developed by the immune system. However, Romero stated that those antibodies can not be relied on as a substitute for being vaccinated.
“We know that natural immunity is not strong enough to protect particularly against the variant. Getting a vaccine boosts your antibody levels hundreds of times higher and it will last longer. Natural immunity is not enough to protect you. You need to get that vaccine in order to make yourself fully immune to that virus in the long run.”
To further highlight the intense nature of COVID-19 and its variants, Hutchinson presented the increased number of cases in the past month. On June 7, the state confirmed 1,594 active cases. Yesterday the active case count reached over 7,000.
“The solution is available," Hutchinson said. “The key to success is not what the government is doing, it's individual action and community action.”
Mississippi County health officer Dr. Valencia Andrews-Pirtle also reminded people of how previous viruses, like smallpox, were eliminated through vaccinations.
“We eradicated [smallpox], we don’t die from that anymore,” Pirtle said. “The science is real and this disease is real.”
Vaccines were available on-site at Chicksawa Arena and remain available throughout the county at local pharmacies and hospitals as well as places like Walmart and Walgreens.