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Arkansas health officials review booster shots as COVID cases rise

Health officials in Arkansas say that cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, and many are left wondering whether or not they are eligible for a COVID booster shot.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Right now, it seems like we all know someone who has COVID-19. 

Health officials said cases have been on the rise for a little over a month now, which has left many wondering if they need more protection against the virus.

By now, a lot of people have had their first booster and are wondering if they can get a second one. 

As it turns out, the CDC has changed their minds on the matter a couple of times and it has caused some confusion. At one point they expanded the qualifications for a second booster, but since then, they have narrowed it back down. 

Kavanaugh Pharmacy owner, Anne Pace, said that things have been pretty busy at her pharmacy.

"I've seen it every day. I mean, every day for the last probably two to three weeks, people who have been careful the whole time and now they're testing positive," she said.

Dr. Joel Tumlison, with the Arkansas Department of Health, said that seems to be the case all across the state.

"There are more people with COVID-19, right now, in Arkansas, than there were six weeks ago, for example, when it was really low," he said.

While health officials have said there's no reasons to panic, Pace said, it has left many wondering if they need more protection.

"I think a good part of our day has been trying to counsel people on what the right thing for them to do is," she said.

So, what exactly is the right thing?

First off, Dr. Tumlison said that if you haven't already gotten your first booster dose, now is the time to do it. 

Anyone 5-years-old and older is eligible for a first booster, at least 5 months after having received their second COVID-19 shot.

"The risk is going up, and I think it's a great time to go ahead and get your booster, if you're eligible and you haven't had it yet," he said.

Dr. Tumlison said the criteria is a little more strict for the second booster. The only people eligible for that shot are those 50-years-old and older. Or anyone 12 and up, who is immunocompromised. 

As for when eligibility could expand, Dr. Tumlison said, that's unknown.

"Very, very up in the air right now and difficult to say," he said.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have talked about updated booster vaccines, that would be more specific to the Omicron variant. 

Dr. Tumlison said that studies are still underway for those and it looks hopeful.

"It's the direction we need to go, where eventually, we may not need to get boosters every four or five months, but an updated booster looking at what is going on right now," he said.

While we wait for all of that to happen, Pace said, if you're worried about catching COVID, it might be a good idea to go back to those 'old habits.' Such as social distancing and masking.

"Especially over the summer, we're going to be at a lot of outdoor activities, don't think that you can't get it from those, being outdoors doesn't mean you're not going to get it," she said.

There's also been talk about a different vaccine.

Health officials said they don't know too much regarding the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine yet, but they know it is a different type of vaccine. 

So they believe it could be a good option for those that still haven't gotten a shot.

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