The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is surging nationally, particularly in states with low vaccination rates such as Arkansas, a reality Hutchinson cited at the outset of the interview with host Jake Tapper. Unvaccinated people make up the vast majority of current hospitalizations and deaths due to coronavirus, with people who haven’t been inoculated accounting for an estimated 97 percent of hospital cases.
Hutchinson called it “a pivotal moment” for the state with the school year nearing. The governor said he’s been holding town hall meetings on the importance of getting vaccinated, which he argued has spurred an increase in vaccinations.
“What’s holding us back is a low vaccination rate. We’re doing all that we can,” Hutchinson said. “And I made the decision that it’s really not what the government can tell you to do, but it is the community and their engagement and citizens talking to other citizens and trusted advisers, whether it’s medical community or whether it’s employers. Those are key.”
The comments came as leaders in under-vaccinated states fight against surges in the coronavirus. Another red-state leader, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, last week argued it is “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks” for the spread of the virus.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, also said Sunday that leaders in areas lagging in vaccination should “speak out” to persuade people to get the shot and blunt a resurgence in the pandemic.
Hutchinson noted, “There’s a very hardened resistance” but called it “a small percent,” and argued residents can be persuaded to get vaccinated.
“There’s more [people] that come to the town meeting that are trying to get information, that they have put it off or they’re hesitant. They’re worried about health consequences,” he said. “And so that’s where you have a community physician that answers the questions. … And so we’re seeing people that were previously resistant or hesitant about it coming in and getting the vaccination.”
Tapper pressed Hutchinson on the state’s ban on mask mandates, which the governor signed. Hutchinson called the move “the will” of the state Legislature and said the state’s “singular focus” is on vaccination.
“I really think it’s important not to have the current debate about mask-wearing, but to have the current emphasis on getting a vaccine,” he said.