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Doctor pleased with COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Arkansas

Nearly a month into the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Arkansas, hospitals are preparing for a quicker rollout in the coming months.

The COVID-19 vaccine has been in Arkansas for almost a month and some hospitals are preparing for a quicker roll out soon.

UAMS started administering the Phizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 15. 

"We have vaccinated close to 7,000 employees at this point," said Dr. Robert Hopkins.

Arkansas is still in Phase 1A, meaning healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home residents and staff can only get it. 

So far, the state has given out about 40% of the 203,000 doses its received.

"We hope to soon in the next few weeks, start to be able to be able to vaccinate the 1B members of our community," Dr. Hopkins said.

Dr. Hopkins with UAMS said  although there has been some challenges getting the vaccine out over the past month, he's pleased with the pace its being rolling out.

"This morning, I was down at our vaccination site and within a couple of hours we'd given over 500 doses of vaccine, so I'd say that's pretty darn quick," he said.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to release nearly all available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine once he takes office, instead of holding some back for second doses. 

Dr. Hopkins and UAMS staff are discussing plans if the vaccine is released this way in the coming weeks.

"I see advantages and disadvantages to that," he said.

Dr. Hopkins said this could help more people get a first dose of the vaccine sooner, but it may delay people's second dose of the vaccine.

"We're talking about setting up vaccination clinics here on campus and potentially in some of our neighborhood clinics," he said. "I think if we get a very large dose of vaccine at once, I think we’ll need to talk more with our health department partners and potentially some other healthcare institutions about vaccinating in other settings. Maybe we set up a mass vaccination program at an arena or two.”

These plans are still preliminary, but Dr. Hopkins said it's important to be ready to go at all times since the vaccine can only be stored for a couple of weeks.

"We need to make sure we've got processes and plans for vaccinating a lot more people a lot more quickly," he said.