Last Thursday was the first of my Community COVID Conversations in Cabot, and I am so grateful for the crowd who attended and filled every seat with the overflow left standing along the walls. The time was well spent with citizens asking questions and providing ideas as to how to overcome the hesitancy of some in getting vaccinated.
Let me describe the challenge we face. One month ago, our active COVID cases had declined along with our hospitalizations. We were increasing our vaccinations across the state, and we were very optimistic about the return to normalcy.
And then during the last month, we saw our rate of vaccinations stall at about 40 percent, and the Delta variant showed up, a right-left punch that has led to a dramatic increase in the daily number of new COVID cases, along with an increase in hospitalizations.
Someone at the Cabot meeting suggested we offer more incentives to encourage people to take the vaccine, but the success of the incentives we’ve already offered was limited. The fishing licenses and lottery tickets we offered were worth a try, but we learned that the incentive wasn’t effective in changing the mind of someone who isn’t already inclined to get a vaccination.
The most powerful incentive is the reality that if Arkansas doesn’t significantly increase its rate of vaccinations, we won’t be getting rid of COVID-19 and its spinoffs anytime soon.
The best incentive is to appeal to the hearts of Arkansans with the fact that taking the vaccination is the best way to protect family and friends. Education is our most powerful tool.
In Arkansas, we have chosen the path of personal responsibility. The state is wide open. We aren’t mandating masks or vaccinations. We know what we must do, and for the most part, Arkansans have done the hard work. The big task before us now is to vaccinate more Arkansans.
But there is good news and reason for optimism. The three vaccines are effective against all the COVID variants, including the Delta variant. The vaccine reduces the symptoms in those who do catch it; 90 percent of those who get the vaccine are not hospitalized, and the vaccine cuts the chance of death to almost zero. More than 50 percent of the population of Bradley County has been fully vaccinated. In the coming weeks, I expect more counties to reach that interim goal that I set, and then we can go up from there.
Next week, I will hold COVID Community Conversations in Batesville, Blytheville, the Forrest City/Marianna area, and Texarkana. My hope is that Arkansans, as they always do, will rise to the challenge, overcome the objections to the vaccine, and help us beat the pandemic so we can quit having these COVID conversations.