In the two days after federal authorities gave the stamp of approval for the pediatric covid-19 vaccine, at least 665 Arkansas children ages 5-11 have received the shot, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
On Wednesday, the first day of the rollout, 377 kids in that age group were vaccinated and 288 received the shots on Thursday. The numbers for Friday were not yet available, Health Department spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said.
"But there is often a lag in reporting, so likely there were more vaccinations than that given -- they just haven't been entered into our system yet," McNeill said.
The state has about 271,000 children age 5-11 years. That means that fewer than 0.25% have been vaccinated.
"Vaccinations are gradually increasing with the 5-11 age group, and a number of clinics are available this weekend for all Arkansans five and older," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said late Friday on Twitter. "For vaccine information call 1-800-803-7847."
The rollout of the vaccine got off to a slow start Wednesday with distribution of the initial supply to local health units around the state not being complete until late that evening.
"Approximately 107,000 total doses began arriving this week, with the final shipments expected on Saturday [today]," McNeill said. "More doses will be ordered next week, and ADH will order more doses as needed on an ongoing basis."
A second shipment that arrived Thursday is being distributed to local healthcare clinics and pharmacies.
"Many local providers have it already and it's just a matter of arranging the transfer of doses," McNeill said.
She added that the vaccine was provided first to the federal Vaccines for Children Program participants, which includes almost all of the state's pediatric clinics. Non-VFC providers will get the vaccine next week.
An additional 40,000 doses were expected to be delivered directly to Walmart stores and other providers participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said Friday the medical center was expected to receive its pediatric doses of the covid-19 vaccine on Monday.
"We are awaiting communication from ADH as to when we will receive the pediatric vaccine and how many doses we will be allotted before we can schedule appointments," she said.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's chief medical officer, said the child-size vaccine has been delivered to eight UAMS facilities around the state, but not to the UAMS vaccine clinic on Monroe Street in Little Rock.
That clinic is scheduled to pick its doses up at 8 a.m. Monday, Dillaha added.
As of Friday afternoon, Arkansas Children's Hospital had vaccinated 165 children age 5-11, spokeswoman Hilary DeMillo said.
"Demand has been steady since we began scheduling," DeMillo said. "Our Friday clinic is nearly full and families have been signing up for additional clinic dates quickly."
Arkansas Children's Hospital will offer the vaccine from 9 a.m. to noon today for those between the ages of 5 and 21.
Likewise, Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, said demand for the child-size vaccines has increased as word has spread in the community.
"We vaccinated about a dozen kids the first day, and we are on track to vaccinate more than that today [Friday]," Speights said. "We expect to get many more calls next week as parents and community members recognize when and where the vaccine is available."
Speights's 11-year-old son received his vaccine Thursday morning at the medical school campus.
"I have three older children who were also vaccinated as soon as it was available to them," Speights said. "As a practicing family physician, I highly recommend that everyone who is eligible be vaccinated."
Speights said nationally, the expectation is that about 33% of parents will get their children vaccinated immediately and another third will "wait and see."
"We are hopeful more parents choose to get their children vaccinated now, especially as we enter into the colder months where increased viral spread is expected with holiday travel," he said.
Covid-19 vaccine clinics will be held from 8 a.m. to noon todayin at lease one local health unit in every county.
Beginning Monday through Wednesday, the local health units will extend their hours until 6 p.m. to administer the pediatric shots. No appointments are necessary.
After the children receive their shot, they are required to be monitored for 15 minutes for adverse reactions, Speights said.
"Anyone with a history of allergic reactions is asked to stay for 30 minutes," Speights said, adding that no one has had a reaction to the vaccines administered at the medical school.
Dr. Jessica Snowden, chief of pediatric infectious disease for Arkansas Children's Hospital, said they expect to see the same side effects as seen in adults: arm pain, fever and fatigue.
"The trial did note that side effects are milder in kids, though," Snowden said.
Children can receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine for younger children 21 days after receiving the first shot. They are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second shot, McNeill said.
Nicole Stevens of Kirby, who is married with seven children, said her older children have already received the vaccine but she is getting her 8-year-old daughter and 11- and 7-year-old sons vaccinated as soon as possible.
"Our town is very rural so we are waiting for them to announce they have them at our local pediatric clinic," Stevens said.
Stevens said she's on the fence when it comes to worrying about the reaction to the shot.
"I trust medicine, but I also know that it can have side effects," Stevens said.
She let her older teens do research on their own -- with a little parental guidance -- before getting the vaccine.
"But I have not really done that with the next set of kids that are eligible for it," Stevens said. "They just know that it helps them to keep from getting sicker than they would without it."
Deann Wagner of Harrison said she is going to the Boone County Health Department unit there today to get her 6-year-old son vaccinated.
Her son has Coffin-Lowry Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, that causes myriad health issues, including respiratory problems.
"His three main specialists unanimously recommended it for him," Wagner said. "If I had another child aged 5-11 who did not have his risk factors at this time, I would not get them vaccinated. The risk to that age group is so low, and I've heard estimates that approximately 40% of them have already had covid. I do not think this vaccine should be mandatory for any age school children."
Wagner and her husband were vaccinated earlier this year and their 13- and 16-year-old children were vaccinated in late summer when the delta variant surged.
"I feel it will give him less risk of being in the PICU, dying, or having long term effects, if he gets covid after he's vaccinated," Wagner said of her 6-year-old son. "While we make the best decisions we know, ultimately, our life and health are in God's hands, and we can trust Him."
Since the pandemic began, there have been 99,033 Arkansas children from birth to 18 years old who were diagnosed with covid-19.
The state has reported 4,191 cases in children under a year old; 11,743 cases in children 1-4 years old; 31,796 cases in children 5-11 years old; and 51,303 cases in children 12-18 years old.
About 96.4% of patients between 12-18 were unvaccinated. About 9.9% of the 12- to 18-year-old population in Arkansas is partially vaccinated while 40.9% is fully vaccinated.
On Friday, the state had 1,175 current active cases among patients from newborn to 18 years old.
Jim Stone Elementary School in the Conway School District shifted to virtual instruction Friday and will do the same Monday as the result of an increased number of covid-19 cases among the staff at the school, Conway School District spokesman Heather Kendrick said Friday.
"The district, in conjunction with the Department of Education, determined that there was school-based spread among the staff and this was causing a lack of available supervision for the students there. That is why we opted to close the school for a couple of days," Kendrick said.
While at home, students are to complete assignments and, if they cannot get those done because they don't have their laptops or they can't get online, they can make up the work when they return to campus.
BY THE NUMBERS
Hospitalizations for covid-19 dipped below 300 on Friday for the first time since late June, while the number of new cases increased.
The number of patients hospitalized with covid-19 dipped by 15 to 293, while the number of virus patients who were on ventilators dropped by eight to 71.
Another 557 new coronavirus cases were added -- 129 more than the previous day and 11 more than a week ago -- bringing the cumulative total to 515,524 cases since the pandemic began.
There were 123 covid patients in the intensive care unit Friday, 10 less than the day before.
With new cases outpacing recoveries, the number of cases in the state that were considered active rose by 86 to 4,565.
The state's death toll from the virus since March 2020, as tracked by the Health Department, rose by 20 to 8,472.
Dillaha said that the increase in deaths every day despite the lower hospitalizations and cases is a lagging indicator for the pandemic trend.
"Usually, it takes several days for the ADH to receive death certificates," Dillaha said. "However, it can also take several weeks or several months, so due to the delay in reporting the deaths, the numbers do not reflect the impact of the current situation. Rather, the number of deaths reflect the impact of cases that occurred several days prior."
The number of vaccine doses that providers reported having administered, including second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, rose by 9,152 to 3,186,495.
The number of individuals fully immunized increased by 933, to a total of 1,405,969, or 55% of Arkansans 12 years old and up.
As of Friday, 181,876 third vaccine doses had been administered.
Of the new cases reported Friday, 86.6% involved unvaccinated people while 88.5% of those hospitalized had not received the shots. About 78.7% of the active cases and 86.6% of the deaths involved unvaccinated people.
The Health Department does not base its percentage vaccinated on the state's total population, but on the total population of those 12 and older, which the department said is 2,557,248.
There were 5,660 covid-19 tests reported Friday, made up of 4,624 PCR and 1,036 antigen tests.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 5,308,000 tests have been reported. Of that number, 539,367 were positive for covid-19, according to Health Department data.
Health Department data indicated that Benton County had the largest increase in total cases, with the count rising by 53.
Pulaski County had the next largest increase, 46, followed by Washington County with 45.
Information for this article was contributed by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.