LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the state will begin the second phase of the COVID-19 vaccinations starting next Monday. But less than 40% of the state’s current vaccine supply has been administered. Some Arkansas health officials say the vaccination rollout plan has already proven not to work.
“As these vaccines flow into the state we need to make sure that we are fast getting them into people’s arms as possible,” Dr. Joe Thompson, CEO and president of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said. He said he doesn’t believe the vaccines are getting into nursing homes as fast as they should.
“Of the 24,000 doses received by CVS and Walgreens for Arkansas nursing residents and staff only 15% have been delivered since December,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the vaccines come into the state in two different ways. In one way, it goes into the state health department and it is directed to hospitals and pharmacies to support nursing homes, hospitals, and other clinic personnel. The other path is direct from the federal government to CVS and Walgreens, which contract with a number of nursing homes.
Arkansas Pharmacist Association President John Vinson said that nursing homes chose how they were getting the vaccine months ago. He said that the nearly 35 nursing homes out of the 350 in the state that selected a local pharmacy to distribute the vaccine were all able to get it within 72 hours.
“It’s always better if you can to partner with a local business that provides care if you want fast and efficient, high-quality care,” Vinson said.
He said many nursing homes are owned by larger corporations that own homes in multiple states, so it may have been easier for them to choose a pharmacy chain to administer to all locations.
“It looks really nice on a spreadsheet, but in reality, it wasn’t the best option for quality care access and putting the patients and family at the top of mind,” Vinson said. “When you have 150 or more homes select large national chain pharmacies I have absolutely no presence in that community, it just can’t be done quickly.”
Vinson said it doesn’t mean CVS or Walgreens pharmacists are to blame.
“The pharmacists who work for Walgreens and CVS, they are working long hours they are working hard they are putting their heart and soul into this,” Vinson said.
Vinson said the rollout program was developed in Washington instead of at a local level, so the distribution plan isn’t going to work in every state.
“You could point a finger at the state and say gosh you should have known that this was it going to go well,” Vinson said. “Why didn’t you do like West Virginia did an opt-out and not partner with CVS and Walgreens?”
Despite the slow rollout, Vinson said that almost every nursing home facility is expected to receive the first dose of the vaccine by Jan. 20, which would still be ahead of the state’s goal.