COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Leaders at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control know people want more specifics about when and where they will get the COVID-19 vaccine, but vaccine distribution is just one of the many urgent tasks ahead of them.
As COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations increase across South Carolina, DHEC says they looking to improve testing, while also lowering case numbers, and orchestrating a smooth, roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine to the public.
A multi-pronged approach to try to get the virus under control.
“We have so much work to do, but there is something liberating that people in the state of South Carolina have been vaccinated now. That’s a big deal. And, for us to have a vaccine this quickly and be using it in the state of South Carolina in the same year is just amazing. There’s nothing comparable in the history of modern, public health,” Midlands Regional Director Scott Thorpe said.
Thorpe said right now his message to the public is, “test, test, test,” before Christmas because he fears the number of new cases will surge even more in the weeks following the holiday. While he said a negative test is not a reason to lower your guard around the holidays, it is a helpful mitigation tool.
“We have continued to see a surge in testing, but we want to see even more,” he said.
Thorpe said DHEC is working to make it easier for people to receive a test by making testing more widely available and ramping up their capacity, but his team is also looking at their testing strategy as they work on their vaccine distribution plan.
The regional director said as more people beyond hospital workers and nursing home residents receive the vaccine, DHEC is preparing to use a few different tactics to let people know when it’s their turn.
“As we move into other phases, it could be through an employer, it could be through a community-based mass vaccination site similar to what we’ve been doing with testing,” Thorpe said. “There are a variety of options on the table and just like with testing we really want to reach as many people in as many different ways as possible,” he added.
DHEC Public Relations Director Laura Renwick said they will get the word out through traditional media, billboards, direct mailers, partnering with weekly papers in rural areas, and potentially even working with the Emergency Management Division to use their texting system to communicate with people across the state.
“We’re going to be coming out in full force to make sure everyone knows when it’s their turn,” Renwick said.
One of the tools that will help DHEC coordinate this statewide, effort is the Vaccine Administration Management System or VAMS. Thorpe said VAMS will be used by all their vaccine distribution partners like hospitals, CVS, and Walgreens. He said it provides his team with information about where each dose of the vaccine is and who received which shot.
“Right now, it’s easy because we are effectively tracking this through employers or other healthcare organizations who are familiar with this stuff,” he said.
However, they know it will get more complicated as more people are eligible to be vaccinated.
“A lot of that planning is both prepping our teams internally at DHEC to vaccinate and fill in gaps where community partners may not be able to provide that coverage themselves. And, work with our community partners to onboard them on to a system like VAMS,” Thorpe added.
DHEC also said they are also trying to prepare for any speed bumps that may come up along the way. He said his team is gaming out, “every possible scenario,” to make sure they are ready when more doses of the vaccine arrive.
“We’re doing our best to prepare for any potential contingency so that we can reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” he said.