Arkansas governor 'working hard' to overcome vaccine hesitancy amid COVID-19 surge

He said he'd work to dispel the "skepticism and mistrust" of government.

July 11, 2021, 2:44 PM

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Sunday that he and his administration are "working hard" to overcome vaccine hesitancy and would accept the federal government's help as delta-variant cases surge across his state amid plateauing statewide vaccination rates.

With only 35% of residents fully vaccinated, Arkansas has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Hutchinson said his administration's efforts will largely target the 30-54 age demographic, as this group has both low-vaccination and high-hospitalization rates.

"We're working very hard to go to that population through the employer, through trusted advisers, such as the clinics, making sure they have the information and overcoming the (vaccine) hesitancy or just the simply 'we're-putting-it-off' approach," Hutchinson told ABC "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos.

"We just have to answer it just like we have all through history, that you overcome skepticism and mistrust by truth," he added later in the interview. "You overcome resistance and obstinance with saying it's important for our community, and it's important for the health of our state and nation."

Top health officials have been warning for weeks that unvaccinated people have a high risk of contracting the delta variant of the virus, which is now dominant in the U.S. and is more transmissible than the original form of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Missouri and neighboring Arkansas lead the nation with the highest weekly case rates per capita, which translates into more than 100 per 100,000 residents. New COVID-19 hospital admissions also rose 30% over the same two-week span, and front-line workers have said patients are becoming sicker more quickly.

When Stephanopoulos asked how Arkansas would overcome the politicization of vaccines, Hutchinson said he would work to dispel the "skepticism and mistrust" of government among his constituents.

"There shouldn't be a partisan divide, first of all, but clearly a conservative is more hesitant about government authority. That's just the nature of it, and so I think in southern states and some rural states, you have that more conservative approach, skepticism about government," Hutchinson said.

"We've got to overcome that mistrust because Republicans, Democrats, we all suffer the same consequences: the Delta variant gets us if we're not vaccinated," he added.

Stephanopoulos also asked Hutchinson if his state would cooperate with the federal government in helping to promote vaccinations among the population, referencing a recent speech by President Joe Biden.

"We need to go to community-by-community, neighborhood-by-neighborhood and oft-times door-to-door, literally knocking on doors, to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus," Biden said Tuesday.

Hutchinson said Sunday that he would be open to federal support, departing from other GOP governors who have been resistant to federal assistance with coronavirus relief and largely critical of Biden's Tuesday remarks, despite White House assurances it is local volunteers -- not the federal government -- who will be knocking on doors.

"We want all the help we can in order to accomplish a mutual goal in increasing vaccinations. Long before President Biden said that, we have community organizations that's helping us, we have churches that are going into homes, we have people that go into those that are bedridden, so that they can have access to the vaccine," Hutchinson said.

"No one wants an agent knocking on a door, but we do want those that do not have access otherwise to make sure they know about and have the information," he added. "We want to have our churches involved. We want to have our community's organizations. If it means going into a community door-by-door and letting them know, then that's okay."

Pointing to the growing number of COVID-19 cases, Stephanopoulos pressed Hutchinson on whether he would renege on the local mask mandate ban that was set to go into effect in the state later this month.

"I think if we started requiring mask-wearing of those vaccinated, particularly -- well anywhere -- indoors or outdoors, that is a disincentive to get vaccinated. We want people to be rewarded and say, your life's going to be more normal, you're going to be more protected. To tell people who've been vaccinated, you got to wear a mask is the wrong program. It's not going to be helpful to get people to be vaccinated," Hutchinson replied.

Hutchinson also said that he would not mandate mask wearing in schools during the upcoming school year.

"We're not going to have masks in the schools. We had in-classroom school last year, we're going to have it even better this year. Right now, 12-plus can be vaccinated and so the solutions are clear to be safe in the schools: get vaccinated," he said.

"Now those that are 12 and under that don't have that same access, and so you've got to even be more careful even though the risks are less, that's an incentive for parents to protect those children to make sure they have a safe environment, in their home, in their community by increasing the vaccination rate for everybody around them," Hutchinson added.

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