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Arkansas rollout of COVID bivalent vaccines begins

The Arkansas Department of Health says some pharmacies have already received the new vaccine with statewide availability expected next week.

ARKANSAS, USA — Health experts discussed vaccine rollout as the new Bivalent Vaccine is authorized by the FDA.

With COVID strains continuously changing, the FDA recently Authorized Bivalent Vaccines. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, 88% of COVID-19 variants are BA.5.

Individuals 18 and older can receive the Moderna bivalent vaccine while Pfizer has been authorized for those 12 and older.

"It's the updated booster that we've all been waiting for," said Dr. Joel Tumlison, Medical Director for immunizations at the ADH. "One of the -bi's of the bivalent is the original strain. The other is part of the spike protein that is in common between BA.4 and BA.5, BA.5 being one that's largely circulating in the United States right now."

Dr. Brenna Neumann is the Director of Pharmacy Operations at Collier Drug Stores. She says many are visiting the drug store after Labor Day Weekend, especially with the new vaccine available.

"We are offering flu shots, influenza vaccines, as well as the new COVID bivalent vaccines," said Dr. Neumann. "As soon as we started talking, I saw that our Pfizer vaccine arrived. So we do have both Maderna and Pfizer, the bivalent Booster is ready to go today."

While some are ready to move on from the pandemic, pharmacists say the public is beginning to get the hang of booster shots and say many are now educated about these COVID strains.

"People are still concerned to wear masks do not wear masks, we do see more people coming in the store. And just out in public in general," said Libby Miller, a Collier employee since 2011. "I think it's kind of an accepted thing that COVID is with us. We still need to vaccinate, we still need to prepare for it."

"All of our pharmacists are prepared," said Dr. Neumann. "And know how to educate themselves know what information to read up on with regards to the FDA and the new information that's also provided by the CDC recommendations. So we have a process in place and it's worked."

Dr. Tumlison says that anyone can receive the vaccine after 2 months of their primary series or last booster shot. The department's medical director for immunizations says that if someone had recently been infected, that they should vaccinate anytime after their isolation period but before 90 days when protection wears off.

Collier Drug Stores in Northwest Arkansas have the vaccine available Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5. They do not require appointments and invite walk-ins. For parents worried about their students, Collier also has COVID care packages for anyone infected by the virus. They can provide vitamins, snacks, or antiviral medicine by delivery.

The ADH says that vaccines should be available statewide by next week.

Dr. Tumlison says we could expect Bivalent vaccines authorized for those younger than 12 in the following months, but says there's no set time. 

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RELATED: Arkansas State Police new service in partnership with DHS

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