Arkansas governor expands booster shot availability, expresses concerns about migrant children
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that all Arkansans 18 years of age and older can receive a booster shot for COVID-19 as long as it has been at least six months since receiving their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“Go get the shot. There's not any limitations on that,” Hutchinson said at his weekly press conference.
The state had previously limited booster shots to people who were 65 or older and those 18 and older who were living in long-term care settings, had underlying health conditions and were working or living in high-risk settings. Hutchinson said the change in policy will illuminate confusion and encourage anyone across the state who is eligible to get the booster shot.
“We want to make sure that everybody that is 18 and over is eligible and is encouraged to get the booster,” he said.
Hutchinson said the reason for getting a booster is data indicating the effectiveness of vaccines deteriorate over time.
The Arkansas Department of Health reported 151 new cases of people testing positive for the virus Monday, along with 12 additional deaths. The number of active cases in the state dropped by 351. About 1.4 million people are fully vaccinated in the state, increasing by 380 from Sunday.
The governor said he was concerned about the low number of vaccinations being administered to younger children after the recent approval of a vaccine for those between the ages of 5 and 11.
Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero also expressed concern about that age group. He said the lower vaccination rate and relaxed mask requirements in schools is leading to intraschool transmissions of COVID-19.
“I want to stress to the parents, even though there is no requirement that a way to protect your child is to use the mask and to proceed with immunizing that age group,” Romero said.
He said 4.2% of the population of children ages 5 to 11 years old are immunized, while 51.2% of the population of 12 to 18 years old have received at least one dose.
Gov. Hutchinson also expressed concerns regarding border security. He said in the last federal fiscal year, which ran through the end of September, the federal government released 672 unaccompanied minors to sponsors in Arkansas.
“What we have seen is that the sponsors are not properly vetted and that in many instances we’re having to take custody of those unaccompanied minors that have been housed with sponsors that are really not properly vetted and qualified and responsible enough to care for these unaccompanied minors,” Hutchinson said.
When an unaccompanied minor comes into the Department of Human Services’ custody, he said the state gets information from the federal government, but the federal government doesn’t take the minor back into custody if the sponsor isn’t properly handling the situation. Unaccompanied minors are not eligible for Medicaid or other federal benefits.
“This means that whenever they come into DHS custody we not only have the responsibility for them from a moral standpoint, from a care standpoint, but also from a financial standpoint,” Hutchinson said.
The governor showed reporters a letter he said he will be sending to the Secretary of Health and Human Services in Washington D.C. expressing his concern.
“We want to do our responsibility, but we want the federal government to do it’s responsibility as well,” Hutchinson said.