COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The leaders of some of South Carolina’s biggest hospitals went to the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control asking for help on Thursday.
The CEOs of Prisma Health, Lexington Medical Center, MUSC, and Tidelands Health urged the board to allow them to begin Phase 1B of the state vaccination plan. They specifically asked to begin vaccinating seniors over the age of 75.
Currently, the state is in Phase 1A. In it, DHEC’s guidance only calls for front-line medical workers to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Long-term care facility residents are also in Phase 1A, but they will receive the Moderna vaccine.
DHEC data shows as of January 7, the state has received 146,250 Pfizer vaccines. Of those, 56,830 have been administered as a first dose, with another 3,511 administered as a second dose. That’s an administration rate of 41%.
MUSC CEO Dr. Patrick Cawley said a large proportion of staffers are dragging their feet.
“A third take the vaccine right away. They schedule it almost as soon as they can get it. A third don’t schedule right away. That’s a group that say they want it but don’t take it right away, and they’re scheduling on the end of our scheduling, and then you’ve got a third who are not going to take it right now. They’re saying absolutely no way,” he said.
His comments were echoed by Prisma Health CEO Mark O’Halla.
“All we’re simply asking is give us the latitude to fill up the pipeline. There are going to be moments in time. I will guarantee you all this. There are going to be moments in time where we will have more people wanting the vaccine than we will have capacity. I’d rather be there than where I am today where I’ve got capacity and I don’t have enough people coming in getting vaccinated,” he said.
Lexington Medical Center CEO Tod Augsburger said vaccinating seniors would help his staff on multiple fronts.
“I value all the other essential workers, everyone in South Carolina. The sooner we can vaccinate our senior citizens, we can save lives, we can decompress hospitals, we can help our healthcare workers focus on all the other care that they need to give. I know people are working hard, but we’ve got to go faster,” he said.
DHEC’s board appeared receptive but did not take any action on the CEOs requests.
Acting Director W. Marshall Taylor Jr. said the governor’s office will be involved in the decision making.
“We’re looking at the numbers, and working with leadership, outside of DHEC to make the decision for the state. This is a state decision. Certainly, the guidance of the hospitals and the guidance of DHEC will be taken into account, but this is a state decision,” he said.
Governor Henry McMaster’s spokesperson Brian Symmes said McMaster is considering widening the people who can be vaccinated in Phase 1A. He said the governor is also watching to see how vaccinations pick up between now and Jan. 15, when the governor set a deadline for Phase 1A workers to make an appointment if they want priority.
If there are an insufficient number of vaccinations, he said the governor could executive action.