COVID-19 vaccines may soon become more available after Walmart becomes a distributer as part of the vaccination effort.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Feb. 2 that as a federally-approved provider for the COVID vaccine, Walmart pharmacies in the state will receive approximately 10,000 doses beginning Feb. 11.

Those doses will be distributed across 60 stores in Arkansas, he said, though  he did not specify how stores would be chosen for distribution.

Currently, those in Ashley County who want a COVID-19 vaccine who don’t work for the school system only have one place to go.

“They need to call Gammell’s Pharmacy and get on the waiting list,” said Ashley County Health Units Administrator Tammy Cook.

“They are the only ones in the county who are providing it.”

That may soon change as the state’s allocation of the vaccines increases from federal sources. Cook said the health units may have the vaccines in hand — and thus in residents’ arms — soon.

“They told us that hopefully within a couple of weeks that we should get the vaccines,” Cook said. “We have been getting our forms and papers ready, and getting things ready.”

Along with the Walmart announcement, Hutchinson said last week he learned that the state would receive an additional five percent increase to the vaccine supply in coming weeks.

“We have been assured that supply chain will be good for three weeks for planning purposes,” Hutchinson said. “That is very helpful as we plan how we can allocate those vaccines in a fair way.”

State Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero also said that a third vaccine — developed by Johnson and Johnson — would likely soon be approved. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already on the market, the Johnson and Johnson product only requires one shot, he said.

As of Feb. 5, approximately 370,262 people in Arkansas had received a vaccine.

“We are continuing to increase our vaccine administration efforts across the state, with over 22,000 reported (Feb. 4),” Hutchinson said Friday. “This week, we have seen over 85,000 doses administered, which is an increase of nearly 30 percent. It’s critical each of us follow department of health guidance this weekend to protect ourselves, our friends, and our families.”

As the state continues the second month of the vaccine program, it is seeing some progress against the virus.  As of Monday, Feb. 8, there were 15,320 total active cases of the virus, down from 16,331 active cases on Feb. 2.

The number of active cases recorded in Ashley County also declined. On Feb. 2, the local number was reported at 90, while on Feb. 8 the number was 72. The number of deaths associated with the virus in Ashley County increased from 27 to 29.

Speaking at a press briefing last week, Romero emphasized that making good decisions to stay safe was key to keeping the trend of cases continuing downward, including wearing masks, frequent hand washing and watching your personal distance — which he referred to as the “three Ws.”

“I want to remind everyone that even though we are making improvements, it is not the time to back off of the three things we think are most important for physical mitigation,” he said. 

“That is what is going to bring this under control and bring down the variants.”

If variant strains of COVID-19 make it into the area, they will take control and become the dominant strain, Romero said.

And that is why people need to get vaccinated while still practicing the three W’s, he said.

“We are only going to be able to get past this pandemic if we have enough immunity,” Romero said.

Approximately 27 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19.