JONESBORO — With new coronavirus cases among children in Arkansas on the rise, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday the state is ready to distribute vaccines to those ages 5-11 as soon as the federal government authorizes it.

During his weekly news conference on the virus, the governor announced that Arkansas will use the existing immunizations infrastructure and strategy to provide COVID-19 vaccines to children ages 5-11.

“Arkansas is well prepared to get out the vaccines and make them available to the age group that we anticipate will be approved,” Hutchinson said. “We want to ensure to everyone that this is a parental decision for their children, we encourage it and that discussion, but there is no mandate.”

All Arkansas Department of Health units will provide pediatric vaccinations. Vaccines for Children (VFC) providers that are enrolled in the COVID-19 vaccination program will also receive vaccines to vaccinate the children they serve.

If parents are unsure if their provider is administering vaccines, they should contact their provider. If they do not have a provider, or their provider is not part of the initial roll-out, they should make an appointment with the LHU closest to them.

The ADH is partnering with the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, Arkansas Medical Society, Immunize Arkansas, and other professional organizations to provide training on the new pediatric COVID-19 vaccine to providers.

The delta variant of the virus has hit younger children hard in the past year, the governor said.

“Children in Arkansas saw 50 percent increase in cases and an 84 percent increase in hospitalization due to the delta strain of COVID-19 between the winter and summer peaks.”

While the numbers of children infected are low compared to adults, Hutchinson said it demonstrates the increased risks for children.

To learn more information about pediatric vaccines, call the ADH COVID-19 call center at 1-800-803-7847.

The health department reported 641 new cases Tuesday, which is slightly up from last week’s report. Active cases went up by 70 to 4,490.

The report included 28 additional deaths in Arkansas, including two in Jackson County and one in Clay County.

In Northeast Arkansas, Craighead County had 17 new cases, followed by nine in Mississippi, seven in Jackson and Randolph counties, six each in Greene and Poinsett, four each in Clay and Cross and three in Lawrence County.

Hutchinson noted that 1.4 million Arkansans are now fully immunized against the virus.

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