2 counties exceed 50% of shots

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Washington and Benton counties reached milestones this week with at least half of their residents aged 12 and over now fully immunized, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Health.

There is still a lot of work to do to vaccinate thousands of additional residents, according to health officials.

Washington County hit the 50% mark last weekend, said Marti Sharkey, public health official for Fayetteville. Benton County crossed the bar on Friday, according to data from the Department of Health.

As of Friday, nearly 51% of 200,760 Washington County residents aged 12 and older were fully immunized. In Benton County, 50% of 231,247 eligible residents have been fully immunized.

Washington and Benton counties join a dozen other counties in the state with at least half of their populations fully vaccinated. Only Washington, Benton, and Pulaski counties have more than 100,000 residents in the group.

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Going over 50% is a big goal to hit, but it’s not the end, Sharkey said. It will take about 150,000 additional vaccinated people to achieve herd immunity, 85% of whom are fully immunized in both counties, she said.

The pool of eligible residents is also set to expand, Sharkey said. Pfizer is preparing to seek approval in the coming weeks from the United States Food and Drug Administration to administer its vaccine to children aged 5 to 11, according to the Reuters news service.

“So we have a lot of work to do and we’ll be combining that with the flu shots this fall,” Sharkey said. “We need a lot more shots by winter.”

Vaccination rates vary across Benton County, but overall this milestone means less strain on health systems and economic stability, said Rogers Fire Chief Tom Jenkins. Jenkins is leading a regional covid-19 task force made up of representatives from healthcare providers, cities, schools, counties, and police and fire departments.

This milestone is the result of the combined efforts of regional partners to organize immunization clinics and make vaccines widely available in pharmacies, schools or wherever people are, Jenkins said.

“There has been a lot of synergy and teamwork which I think signals the solidarity and regionalism that we boast about in Northwest Arkansas,” he said. “I hope that number continues to climb.”

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As of Friday, nearly 43% of Sebastian County’s 107,538 residents were fully vaccinated. However, the percentage has grown faster in the past two months than in Washington and Benton counties.

As of July 15, about 25% of eligible residents of Sebastian County were fully immunized. The rate has climbed nearly 20 percentage points since then.

Washington and Benton counties’ rates rose about 10 percentage points over the same period.

Sebastian County deputy administrator Jeff Turner said he believed the rise of the delta variant had affected residents close to their homes.

“This strain probably made it a little more real for some people. They saw people who were not in the most vulnerable classes get very sick and unfortunately die. We have lost younger people,” a- he declared. “I think that was part of a red flag.”

The full approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the FDA in late August also likely helped persuade those hesitant to get the vaccine, Turner said.

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