COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As COVID-19 vaccinations began across South Carolina, the state’s leading infectious disease expert shared encouraging words, but cautioned the public: this pandemic is not over yet.
In a statement shared Wednesday, Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist for the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), says she’s eager to take the vaccine, but she will wait her turn.
Bell addressed skepticism about the vaccine, and said DHEC will ensure vaccinations happen in an “equitable and ethical” way.
She urged residents to get vaccinated when they can, but to also continue to practice the tried-and-true health measures we know help stop the spread.
“We are confident enough vaccines will be available for everyone within the next year,” she wrote. “In the meantime, we remain at a critical point in this pandemic; this is a life and death struggle. Even as the vaccine is being rolled out, we are going to see many more get ill and die from this terrible disease if we don’t wear masks, physical distance, get routinely tested and practice the other safety measures we know work.”
Until enough people are vaccinated and protected against the virus, she said, we are still in this struggle together.
Here is Bell’s full, unedited message to the public:
“The road in our fight against COVID-19 has been long, and it hasn’t been easy. Many of us have already made significant sacrifices. South Carolinians have lost their loved ones to this deadly disease, others have lost their jobs and their livelihoods. We haven’t yet reached the end of this long road, but I have great hope now with the arrival of the first vaccines in our state.
“DHEC and its federal, state and local partners are committed to ensuring that everyone who wants to receive vaccine in South Carolina will eventually be vaccinated. However, the number of doses is currently limited in South Carolina, like in all states. That’s why we are asking all South Carolinians to step up by stepping back to ensure the most vulnerable among us and those who keep us alive are vaccinated first.
“As we patiently wait for additional vaccines, it’s important to understand that it may take months to vaccinate enough of our population that it would allow us to change some of our current safety practices. This means we must all continue to take the small steps that make a big difference, including wearing our masks, getting tested and staying home when we’re sick, avoiding group gatherings, practicing physical distancing, and, when it’s our turn, getting vaccinated.
“We recognize that some people are skeptical of this vaccine. We absolutely understand why some people are hesitant. This skepticism especially resonates among African Americans and other people of color, whose history of how we were once treated horribly in previous experimental research is forever entrenched in our memories. I understand the distrust. But I also know the result of that history. All studies involving humans now require initial and ongoing review to make sure appropriate steps are in place to protect the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in research. I want everyone to know these processes were in place in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and the review showed they are safe and effective. Unfortunately, groups that have the most skepticism are the same groups that have the highest rates of hospitalizations and deaths. We now have the ability to do our part to protect ourselves and others to end this pandemic by getting vaccinated. When it’s my turn, I’ll be among the first waiting in line to roll up my sleeve and get vaccinated.
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“DHEC is working with stakeholders across the state to ensure the vaccines are provided to the public in a manner that is both equitable and ethical, starting with our most vulnerable residents. We are confident enough vaccines will be available for everyone within the next year. In the meantime, we remain at a critical point in this pandemic; this is a life and death struggle. Even as the vaccine is being rolled out, we are going to see many more get ill and die from this terrible disease if we don’t wear masks, physical distance, get routinely tested and practice the other safety measures we know work.
“It’s also important to understand that we must continue these prevention methods even after we’re vaccinated. We won’t be able to return to normalcy until enough of us are protected against this virus. I encourage every South Carolinian who’s able to get the vaccine — when it’s their turn — to roll up their sleeves with me and get it. Together, we can defeat this invisible enemy that has held us hostage in 2020.”