Now that federal health officials have given the go-ahead, pediatric formulations of the COVID-19 vaccine are available in Ashley County.

Both the Hamburg and Crossett locations of the Ashley County Health Unit started offering the pediatric formulation for children ages 5 to 11 on Nov. 4. The Hamburg unit also had a special COVID clinic that did not require an appointment on Nov. 6.

Ashley County Health Unit Administrator Tammy Cook said she had also delivered some doses of the vaccine to Dr. Kenneth Richard’s office at Ashley Pediatric Clinic, and that some local pharmacies were supposed to receive pediatric formulations of the vaccine this week.

“We are offering (the vaccine), and that is the best way to prevent COVID,” Cook said. “You also need to practice covering your cough, keeping your distance and washing your hands.”

In addition to having the vaccine newly available to the younger cohort, Cook said the health units are also offering vaccine boosters to those who are 65 or older or who have certain underlying medical conditions. 

Cook said that those who want them can also receive a flu shot at the same time as a COVID vaccine.

State officials reported that more than 2,200 children received the COVID vaccine in the first five days it was available. That number represents approximately 1 percent of the approximately 271,000 children who fall into that age group in the state. Just more than 95,000 pediatric doses were delivered to Arkansas after federal officials gave the go-ahead to distribute the child-sized Pfizer-BioNTech dosages.

After raging through the state in late summer and having new strains develop that were considered substantially more dangerous for children, the COVID pandemic appears to be in a lull after a sharp decline. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state had a total of 4,360 reported active cases of the disease that results from an infection of the novel coronavirus that was first detected in the fall of 2019. 

In Ashley County, the number of reported cases as of Nov. 9 was 21. The number of deaths associated with the virus since the pandemic entered Ashley County remained at 50, meaning it has not increased in the last week.

Crossett Superintendent of Schools Gary Williams said Monday that with the number of cases hovering in the low- to mid-20s in recent weeks, the school districts have seen a few cases of COVID but the numbers have remained low.

The Arkansas Department of Health’s biweekly report about the number of cases of COVID associated with educational institutions indicates that both Crossett and Hamburg’s school districts have fewer than five cases currently, if any. Five is the baseline the department uses for inclusion in its report.

While cases remain low, officials are cautioning continued vigilance. In 2020 cases surged during the summer, dipped in the fall and then rose again as the cool weather set in. 

While vaccines are now widely available and should help fight the spread of the disease and the severity of its virulence for those who are vaccinated, they continue to urge caution for people who are at risk for health complications.

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