The following is a transcript of an interview with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson that aired Sunday, June 27, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: One of the states with the lowest vaccination rates in the country is Arkansas. Hospital admissions in the state are up 30% in the last week. Joining us from Little Rock is Governor Asa Hutchinson. Good morning, Governor.
GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON: Good morning, JOHN. Good to be with you.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you for being with us. The University of Arkansas Medical Sciences had to reopen its COVID wing. And the CEO there said we have seen a 300% increase in the numbers of patients hospitalized. What’s going on?
GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, those that are being hospitalized are those that have not been vaccinated and what you see in Arkansas and that probably replicates some of what you see across the country is that in March and April, whenever we were struggling with vaccine supplies, that we started getting our vaccines out there. You saw our cases go down dramatically. And when our cases went down, the demand for vaccines was reduced as well. And so what you have is that people started feeling comfortable. People saw the cases of hospitalizations down. And so, the urgency of getting the vaccine slowed down. We’ve got to make sure that we do everything we can to get the word out, which we have. We’ve used incentives that have not been very successful. We’ve obviously done marketing for our vaccines. We are educating, doing everything that we can. And we’re up to, you know, 50% of adults already are vaccinated. But we’ve got to get that higher. We’re doing everything we can to encourage that. And I think as- if- if- if incentives don’t work, reality will. And as you see the hospitalizations go up, the cases go up, I think you’ll see the vaccination rate increase as well.
JOHN DICKERSON: Help us think through some of this, because is it just the lack of urgency? Because reality has been pretty apparent for the last, you know, more than a year and a half. So is there some other portion of this hesitancy that is tougher to crack than just simply the fact that it’s not blaring from the headlines every day?
GOV. HUTCHINSON: Absolutely, I mean, there is vaccine hesitancy. Part of it is we’ll just delay it, but the part that you’re most concerned about are those that- that believe- don’t believe in the efficacy of it. They believe that in the conspiracy theories. I had emails today from a business person who was discouraging vaccines. And- and- and, you know, part of it is just the nature of- of humans that unless they are absolutely convinced there is that vaccine hesitancy. One of the challenges was the fact that this is under FDA emergency use authorization. And so we need to get that research completed so it can be final approval. I think that will help. Secondly, you look back and I think the- the pause on the J&J vaccine increased the hesitancy. I think that was an error. I don’t think it was necessary. But those factors together, I think increased the hesitancy.
JOHN DICKERSON: Explain to me why the change in the FDA emergency use authorization would make it easier to get people vaccinated.
GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, whenever they see emergency use authorization, that- then they say, well, they haven’t made a final approval, they haven’t got all the research completed that is needed on there. They want to do more study. And so it was approved as emergency use. And so for that reason, you can’t mandate it. We don’t mandate it in Arkansas. We have to rely upon the education. And part of that is even though there is a minor level of risk with the vaccine, the risk is so much greater if you get COVID. And that’s what we’re seeing now. One person that I am familiar with in terms of his story, they mocked the vaccine. They ultimately got COVID. They’re on a respirator now and their life is in jeopardy. That’s what we’ve got to continue to educate and realize lives are at stake to encourage the vaccine taking.
JOHN DICKERSON: Do you have to make a policy choice? I know you’ve said you don’t want to shut things down, but if these numbers keep getting worse, do you have to think about anything? I don’t know, mask mandates, anything to protect people from this portion of the population that is so resistant?
GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, theoretically, that could be on the table, but in reality, we’re beyond that. We know what we need to do. And I don’t believe even with the increase that we’ve seen in hospitalizations, that we’re going to go back to the levels we were last winter. But it is a concern. But I don’t believe that you’re going to go back to the heavy government restrictions that we had at the outset of this pandemic. People know what to do. They’re instructed in it. And we have to count upon their individual responsibility to do the right thing. We’re hoping that we’ll get there.
JOHN DICKERSON: One more quick question on this. Trends experts say that this Delta variant plus the fall and winter, things are going to get worse. Do you have to start making preparations now in case there continues to be hesitancy and those predictions turn out to be true?
GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, the Delta variant is a great concern to us. We see that impacting our increasing cases and hospitalizations. And so, yes, you have to take the counsel of a medical expert seriously whenever they look at this coming winter, although I don’t think we’re going to get there. We do have to have those contingency plans in place in the event we do see challenges coming this next winter.
JOHN DICKERSON: I’ve got a quick question on infrastructure. It can seem like an abstract idea to people, but the I-40 bridge that went from Tennessee to Arkansas had to be shut down. Tell us how bad it got and how that’s affected the economy in the area.
GOV. HUTCHINSON: Well, it’s been a terrible loss to our economy in terms of the increased cost of transportation, logistics. The I-40 bridge is a major artery. It is still shut down and so that it helps us to get our goods across the Mississippi River to the East Coast. We have commuters going back and forth. I think the Trucking Association says it cost us $2.4 million a day, just an extra logistics cost. And so we want to get that fixed. That illustrates the need for the current infrastructure plan. And I applaud the senators that came together in a bipartisan way. From a governor’s standpoint that helps us get to these kind of bridge repairs. That helps us to improve our road and bridge infrastructure, but also our electric vehicle modernization and having those systems in place. The water systems are important, Arkansas River Navigation. So I hope they get to the next step and get that passed.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Governor Hutchinson, thanks so much for being with us. And we’ll be back in a moment.