Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) told CNN on Sunday morning that his state, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, is at a pivotal “moment in our race against the COVID virus.”
During his interview with CNN host Jake Tapper, Hutchinson said people can change their mind about vaccinations, and many people simply want information or have put off getting it.
“We have school coming up, we have a lot of sports activities that people are expecting and anxious about, and it’s important for normalcy, and what’s holding us back is a low vaccination rate,” he said.
He also blamed misinformation and myths for a small percent of vaccine hesitancy.
“The resistance has hardened in certain elements. It’s simply false information, it is myths,” Hutchinson told CNN on Sunday. “As I go into these town hall meetings, someone said, ‘Don’t call it a vaccine, call it a bioweapon.’ And they talk about mind-control. Well, those are obviously erroneous, other members of the community correct that.”
One of the most prominent and enduring COVID-19 vaccine myths is the belief that 6,000 people have died from the vaccines. The myth is based on a misunderstanding of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, or VAERS, a catch-all detection system operated by the CDC and FDA.
Data in VAERS does not attribute the cause of potential side effects to vaccines. Rather, the data simply means that someone reported a potential side effect after receiving a vaccine. These potential side effects are called adverse events — health problems “that happen after vaccination that may or may not be caused by a vaccine,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The system is designed to help scientists identify possible “cause and effect relationships” that should be investigated by scientists. Notably, the VAERS system “generally cannot assess if vaccines caused an adverse reaction,” as the CDC has noted.
According to data from the CDC, the Delta variant, first detected in India, has been largely responsible for the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. Arkansas has the highest 7-day average of new cases since early February 2021; the 7-day average for hospitalizations is similar. The 7-day average for deaths is where it was at the end of March 2021.
Among positive COVID-19 cases that have been sequenced in the U.S., around 83% are attributable to the Delta variant, which is more infectious and contagious than the original virus. Back in mid-June, only about 30% of cases were attributable to Delta.
The CDC does not make publicly available how many vaccinated people test positive for COVID-19. However, only last week, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that 97% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were not vaccinated against the illness. Furthermore, according to the agency, 99.5% of people who are dying of COVID-19 are not vaccinated.
The discrepancy in health outcomes between the vaccinated and unvaccinated population has led to stronger vaccine promotion in the U.S., particularly in recent days.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL), once called “one of the best” U.S. governors by former President Donald Trump, didn’t hold back in vaccine comments last week. After noting the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths attributed to unvaccinated people, the governor accused those people of “choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”
“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” said Ivey, who has received the two-dose Pfizer series of the COVID-19 vaccine. “But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”
Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who according to his office was vaccinated with the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, has made a more data-driven pitch. He noted last week that COVID-19 vaccines have been saving lives and reducing mortality in Florida.
“Mortality in nursing homes since we rolled out the vaccines in December is down over 95% due to COVID. Mortality for elderly people since we rolled out the vaccines is down nearly 90%. And so, we’re proud in Florida that we put seniors first on that because they were the most vulnerable. We have 85% of our seniors that are vaccinated, and about 75% of folks over the age of 50. We have no mandate, we’ve provided information to people, and we’ve been very honest about any data that comes out,” said DeSantis.
“I can tell you, in Florida, your chance of surviving if you’re vaccinated is close to 100%,” added the Florida governor. “And so, we worked very hard to get those vaccines into all our elderly communities and give it to other folks who could use it.”