COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - After Gov. Henry McMaster asked state officials to give an immediate update on the status of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the state, the Department of Health and Environmental Control held a news conference Saturday.
DHEC’s Interim Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler urged the public to be patient and wait their turn for the vaccine.
She said so far, vaccine distribution is going well and they hope to speed up the rate of vaccinations soon.
“I think it has been going very smooth to this point considering all the logistical complexities that go into place for this vaccine,” she said. “So I would say we are going smoothly toward that rapid accelerated increase at this time.”
However, in recent days South Carolina lawmakers have raised concerns about the rollout of the vaccine in the state.
As of Saturday, South Carolina has administered 37% of the vaccine doses it has received, according to DHEC.
When asked why 63% of the vaccines in state borders are still in their vials, DHEC Immunization Program Manager Stephen White noted some hospitals in the state are low on staff.
“Each health care facility is administering vaccines using their available appropriate staff, and this varies from hospital to hospital,” White said.
He also said some of the available doses are scheduled to be administered to health care workers and people at long-term care facilities “in the near future.”
Storage is not a problem with the rollout, DHEC said.
Officials said the state has more cooling equipment needed to keep the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at ultra-cold temperatures than the number of vaccines it has been allocated.
DHEC also said they have an adequate supply of all the equipment needed to safely administer the vaccine.
For now, DHEC is asking hospitals to help their communities by administering the vaccine to people in the Phase 1A group who may not work in their hospital system.
“Certain hospitals are experiencing different surge volumes and some of them do have nursing shortages in some cases,” White said. “We have been advising those hospitals that have the capability of vaccinating outside of their walls to members of their public do so, but we do understand that some hospitals do have some limitations.”
Traxler said people will know it’s their turn to receive the vaccine when they are contacted by DHEC or their employer. She promised they are making plans to reach out to people in a variety of ways to make sure they’re aware when it’s their time to sign up to get the shot.
She asked anyone contacted to go ahead and sign up and, “not to wait to see later how things are going.”
Traxler hopes to have more vaccine available in the coming months. When that happens, the state can progress through the next phases of the rollout.
Here are the current guidelines DHEC has developed for the next phases:
- Persons aged 75 years and older (with or without underlying health conditions)
- Frontline essential workers:
- Law enforcement officers
- Corrections officers
- Food and agricultural workers
- United States Postal Service workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Grocery store workers
- Public transit workers
- Educational sector employees—teachers, support staff, and day care workers
- Essential workers not included in Phase 1b (such as people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health staff who are non-frontline health care workers)
- Persons aged 65 to 74 years (with or without underlying health conditions)
- Persons aged 16 to 64 years with underlying health conditions that increase the risk for severe COVID-19 (more information to follow from the SC COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee)
As the vaccine supply increases, the CDC will provide guidance for Phases 2 and 3, which will include more of the population.
“We are hoping to have the vaccine widely available by summer to any and all South Carolinians that are aged 16 or older,” she said.
If enough people opt to get the vaccine, Traxler hopes the state can have some level of herd immunity by the fall.
In order to ensure people meet the criteria to be vaccinated when it is their turn, Traxler said DHEC is working on protocols.
This will only happen once Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout is complete and the state moves into other phases.
DHEC may require people to verify their age with an ID, and the agency may ask people with pre-existing conditions to prove their eligibility with a doctor’s note, or by asking their pharmacy to verify their current prescriptions.
However, Traxler said, this is all still being discussed.
DHEC is also addressing concerns of vaccine hoarding.
“We will not be allowing any stockpiling of the vaccine and we are continuously monitoring utilization rates and appointments scheduled to make sure that is not happening,” she said.
Watch the full update from DHEC below: