With only 20.75% of its citizens (3,697 people) fully vaccinated as of Monday, June 21 according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), Hempstead County is currently second to last out of all 75 counties in the state of Arkansas with Miller County (8.94%) coming in last place.
The racial breakdown of Hempstead County’s fully vaccination citizens is as follows: 23.70% of Native Hawaii/Pacific Islander citizens are fully vaccinated, 18.70% of Black citizens are fully vaccinated, 17.10% of White citizens are fully vaccinated, and 16.20% of American Indian/Alaskan Native citizens are fully vaccinated, all according to ADH as of June 21.
“It is not surprising to me that Hempstead County has low vaccination rates,” Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, State Epidemiologist and the Medical Director for Immunizations and Outbreak Response at the Arkansas Department of Health, said. “Hempstead County has a very low vaccination rate. Nothing near what the county needs to prevent the community spread of the coming Delta Variant.”
“The Delta Variant” is a variant that is believed to have originated in India and has spread around the world, including becoming the dominate variant in the UK, according to Dillaha.
“The COVID-19 illness is caused by the virus SARs-Coronavirus-2 and it has variants and one of of the variants is called ‘the Delta Variant,'” she said. “What we are seeing in the U.S. is that it would likely become the dominate variant in the United States including Arkansas in the vary near future. This variant is much more infectious than the previous variants so we anticipate that a larger number of people who become infected than have been infected in the past. Many of them will be hospitalize and it will likely cause more severe illness in people who are younger than what we have seen in the past.
Dillaha says that the current COVID-19 vaccines do protect against this variant, but it will only work in fighting it if enough people are fully vaccinated.
“Since this is a new disease, we do not know what level of immunity would be needed to prevent the spread,” she said. “However since this variant is much more infectious than the previous variants, we will likely need a high level of immunity in any particular geographic location to prevent spread. I would think we would need between 80-90% of people to be fully vaccinated to prevent spread, but that’s just an educated guess on my part.”
Arkansas as a whole is very low in terms of vaccination rates currently with the state being 43rd out of all 50 states plus D.C. in vaccination rates with only Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia behind it. With Arkansas already being as low as it is, Dillaha says that it says a lot about how low Hempstead County’s vaccinations rates are with it being second to last.
“I don’t see Hempstead County reaching the goal we need unless people in Hempstead County change their minds and decide to get vaccinated,” she said.
Hempstead County’s low vaccination rates is likely caused by many citizen’s mistrust in the vaccine which Dillaha says is mostly due to misinformation being spread.
“I would encourage people to take steps to be well informed about the vaccine,” she said. “There’s a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about the vaccine out there and people struggle with telling the real information from the fake information. I would encourage people to talk to people who know about the vaccine like a pharmacist or a doctor or a nurse so that they can sort through the misinformation that is out there.”
Dillaha says that the ADH is doing everything they can to increase vaccination rates in Arkansas and would be more than happy to help Hempstead County.
“We’re working to provide incentives but we’re also making sure we’re taking steps to make sure vaccinations are easily available to people who choose to get vaccinated,” she said. “We’re hosting vaccination events, so if there’s a desired event in Hempstead County to have such an event, we’re happy to arrange that.”
Nevada County is fairing a bit better than Hempstead County with 22.98% of its citizens vaccinated.