After adding only 76 new COVID-19 cases the previous week, this past week saw 91 new cases reported in Lawrence County.

The previous cumulative case total reported last Tuesday was 1,338, while this week’s total is 1,429 cases.

The result is an increase in active cases, as well, with the Arkansas Department of Health reporting 118 active cases, as of Tuesday morning. This is an increase of 20 from the active case count of 98 reported last week.

The county saw a total of 70 recoveries over the past week with the ADH website reporting 1,277 recovered on Tuesday, compared to 1,270 the previous week.

The ADH also reports one additional death among Lawrence County residents, bringing that total to 34.

Gov. Hutchinson urges continued caution

On Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the arrival of additional vaccines in the state.

“Today we began receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine (5,900 doses), with additional shipments expected tomorrow and Wednesday,” he said. “We also received a second shipment of the Pfizer vaccine (18,575 doses).”

Heading into the holiday, the governor emphasized that the need to follow social-distancing guidelines and use other precautions remains essential.

“While this news provides hope for many, it is a continued concern to see the loss of 58 additional Arkansans,” Hutchinson said, noting 20 of Monday’s deaths were delayed reports. “We must steel our resolve to take every precaution to keep everyone safe.”

Former NEA resident part of Moderna trial

The approval of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine comes after months of clinical trials involving 30,000 volunteers around the country. One of them is a former Northeast Arkansas man who participated in the trial at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. He asked us to withhold his name.

The man is a Paragould High School graduate in his mid-sixties now living in Tennessee. He said he doesn’t want to call attention to himself but knows people have questions about the process.

“I think it’s important that people also understand that all of us are presented with opportunities to serve in some way and there is something we can do,” the volunteer emphasized.

He acknowledged some friends and family worried about him taking the new drug and potential harm to his health.

“I’m not a fine print kind of guy, but I read every word of the lengthy disclosure material from Moderna and I really saw no significant risk in doing this,” he said. “There’s nothing noble about it.”

He heard about the trial and the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program sometime in the summer. He expressed interest via the web. Vanderbilt sent a short questionnaire. That led to a much longer form, then a lengthy telephone call with more questions. Next came the first visit to Vanderbilt.

The man was given what he describes as a “high level physical exam” conducted by three medical researchers and answered “a lot more questions” about his health and medical history.

He fit a desired profile, an older man with some common underlying health issues.

The first of what would be five COVID tests, so far, came on this visit. Then he received the first of two injections.

That first injection came in September. He took it in his left arm, “because I’m right handed,” and then waited a while with medical staff to make sure he had no immediate adverse reaction to the vaccine. Doctors then gave him an app to enter his temperature and other health information in to every day. He continues to enter the data, now on a weekly basis.

He returned for his second shot in October, 21 days after the first. Once a month he goes to VUMC for a blood draw to check for COVID antibodies. “If there are antibodies, the vaccine worked.”

The former Paragould man doesn’t know if he got the vaccine or a placebo. After the second shot he says he had a few minor short term side effects, “a slight headache, sore arm, muscle aches, just not feeling good.” But, he says people who got a placebo can have side effects too. Psychologically, “placebo is a powerful effect,” he adds. He’ll find out this week when he is “unblinded” from the study.

He can elect to drop out of the study or continue to participate and be monitored over the course of another 12-16 months. If he was one of the 15,000 who actually received a placebo he can choose to be inoculated with the vaccine. Either way, the volunteer says he will continue in the study.

There is obvious pride as he recites results of the trial. “Of 15,000 who got the vaccine only five got COVID! Of 15,000 who got the placebo, 90 got COVID.” He calls the vaccine, “tremendously powerful and effective.” There’s a short pause and the man continues, “That’s because a lot of people came together and worked really hard and a few people stepped up and said try it on me.” He shrugs his shoulders. “It was no big deal.”

The man’s face becomes animated and he moves his hands for emphasis, “This was an unbelievable scientific achievement,” he says. “For those people who may not have a real appreciation for the health care workers, some of the people who see me when I go up to Vandy are seeing their families a couple hours a day. They are working like dogs. They’ve poured their lives in to this. By comparison what study participants did was no big deal. There’s always something we can all do to make the world a better place.”

While in the trial, the man lost friends to COVID. One, a longtime friend and Paragould school classmate died in August. Now choked up, he says, “I thought of her every day.” Then two months later the woman’s elderly mother also died. The mother of another high school friend died in November. Other family members and friends got the disease but recovered. Some were sicker than others.

Family and friends have been much on his mind since the pandemic began.

He remembers as a pre-school child walking hand in hand with his parents to the neighborhood elementary school for the polio vaccine. He “vividly remembers” the pink sugar cube containing the vaccine children were given in the 1950s. That vaccine came too late for one friend. “My best friend in Kentucky got polio at age three. He’s led a remarkable life, but hasn’t walked since.”

The man is reflective now. Until COVID, he says, “It had never crossed my mind that someone had to do what we were being asked to do now. That’s help build a vaccine.”

“This was not about me,” he emphasizes again. “The greatest things happen when we don’t care if we get any credit for them. Just pure and simple. God tapped me on the shoulder and said somebody did this for you so you wouldn’t be riding around in a wheel chair like your friend. I thought, there’s not much I can do, but I can do this.”

— Paxton News Bureau

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