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Hot Springs vaccine clinic aims to increase vaccination rates in vaccine-hesitant populations

"We are not sprinting to the finish line, this is an ultra-marathon. It's going to take us a long time to get this under control."

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Over the last several months, the rate of vaccinations in Arkansas hasn't been high. Many of the people who wanted to get their shot have already gotten it.

That's also the case in Hot Springs. Mayor Pat McCabe said this may be the toughest part in the fight against COVID-19.

"It's always going to be harder to get that segment to be vaccinated," McCabe said, describing the vaccine-hesitant population. "We can't have a pocket that's not vaccinated, because those individuals are still going to go to work. They're still going to go to the grocery store. They're still going to go to school."

That's where Arkansas Housing and Urban Development (HUD) director Wanda Merritt comes in.

Merritt leads one of the several organizations that's stepping up to put on Saturday's clinic at Wade Street Park.

"It is absolutely important to meet people where they are," Merritt said. "I think we take for granted those of us who have access to it. Sometimes we overlook the barriers people have."

Saturday's clinic was focused on HUD clients, but was also available to anyone who still needed a shot. A wellness clinic catered to overall health was also available.

"We wanted to reach those communities just to make sure that our population of HUD-assisted clients had access to the vaccine," Merritt said.

It's not a simple thing to do. Changing someone's mind is a tall order.

"We hope we have a large turnout," Merritt said. "If we have one, that is one more shot in the arm of somebody to be protected from COVID."

McCabe said that the information about the vaccine is just as important as the shot itself. 

"It's that information that's been planted, that will say, 'yeah, I better go ahead and do this, and again, I'll do it for my family,'" McCabe said.

While Saturday's clinic was smaller than the massive lines of people when the vaccine was first made available – 15 people still got their shot at this clinic. McCabe said they're in this for the long haul, even if it is just one shot at a time.

"We are not sprinting to the finish line, this is an ultra marathon. It's going to take us a long time to get this under control," McCabe said. "The only way we're going to be able to do that is working together and getting our vaccines."