Small Arkansas towns to see slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines

The wait for seniors over the age of 70 to get their COVID-19 vaccine will depend in large part on where they live.

MT IDA, Ark. — The progression into the expanded Phase 1B of the Arkansas vaccine rollout saw hundreds of educators get shots Monday while seniors over 70 in rural areas found out they may be waiting a while.

At the Mount Ida Pharmacy, which serves as the only vaccine distributor in Montgomery County, Monday was just a typical day— save for the constant phone calls to owner and pharmacist Laura Wagner.

“I’m heartbroken and sad that my elderly patients are going to have to wait such an extended period of time,” she said. 

Wagner has to explain that her store will only be getting 100 doses a week. A message on the pharmacy’s phone line apologizes for opening waiting lists but says they only had limited information when they made their initial plans.

“I did have a drive-thru event scheduled for next weekend, hoping that I could do several hundred,” Wagner said. “That’s not going to happen because they can’t supply the vaccine.”

Instead, Wagner plans to work on her off-day, team up with another pharmacist, and run down her list and run through her 100-dose supply in one day.

But bigger rollouts are possible in bigger cities where facilities put in requests for larger allotments.

“We’ve given out over 500 vaccines today,” said Dr. Douglas Ross, the president of CHI St. Vincent’s Hospital in Hot Springs, where they pointed to the Monday holiday and targeted the other newly eligible group.

“Teachers started lining up about an hour and a half early this morning and it’s been going non-stop over the last several hours,” Dr. Ross said, explaining that most waited in cars to fill out paperwork or stayed socially distant as the line went inside the clinic.

“For me, it was very simple. I drove in the parking lot at 1:15 and I’m out the door at 2:35. So, I think that’s excellent,” said Nancy Loe, a school secretary in the Hot Springs district.

Loe said she lost an aunt early in the pandemic and recently had friends get out of the hospital, but up until recently she still needed some convincing.

“After speaking with some people and reading some of the things out there, I decided it was very important that I get the shot for my whole school district, my family and everyone,” Loe said.

But even Dr. Ross noted that big events can’t happen every day, particularly for the majority of people in the Phase 1B group. Cody Turner, the pharmacist for the family of designated vaccine outlets in Garland County, said most people over 70 had gotten the message to get on waiting lists. 

That kept crowds down at Fountain Lake Family Pharmacy, where people in the 1A group could get shots by walking in, but at least one older couple had to put their names down for a later date.

Wagner hears the disappointment in many voices when people like that couple call on the phone. She also joked she’s “heard it all” including bribes to get shots, but that even if she wanted to break her ethics, she just doesn’t have the vaccine to barter with.

She tells them all we can do is wait and have patience.

“I think it’s going to happen. I just think it’s going to be much slower any of us would like,” Wagner said.