COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has faced criticism from lawmakers and citizens for their COVID-19 vaccine rollout despite DHEC’s repeated pleas for patience.
Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said the agency was met with unexpected hurdles in the first days of administering the vaccine.
“It’s not even been a month. It takes a while to work out the unanticipated issues,” Dr. Kelly said. “For example, I said, you have to observe a patient for 15 minutes, at least 15 minutes after they’ve been vaccinated. So, this is not like polio. This is not like you line a bunch of kids up in a hallway and give them all their drops.”
Kelly explained in addition to vaccine administration requiring interviewing patients about their medical histories, answering questions, and an on-site observation period after administration, the vaccine arrived in the state at a difficult time.
“Where utilization is lower, I remind people about staffing, holidays, surge of COVID-19 cases that took personnel away from vaccination duties to clinical duties…literally patient flow logistics that are quickly being worked out now,” Kelly said.
Kelly said DHEC is working to address the staffing shortage. In addition to working with an outside firm to hire people to help with vaccinations, she said DHEC and hospitals are reaching out to retired and qualified health care workers to help vaccinate people.
One of the biggest pushes to speed up vaccinations came from Gov. McMaster who asked that all Phase 1A vaccinations be scheduled by January 15. Kelly, the number two epidemiologist in the state, said she was not aware of McMaster’s demand for a faster rollout until he made his announcement, but said it has advantages.
“What the January 15 deadline would give us is a better idea of how many people in Phase 1A want to receive the vaccine. Because our movement from 1A to 1B depends on supply and demand,” Kelly said.
She explained that while DHEC knows there are more than 353,000 people in the state who qualify to be one of the first to receive the vaccine, the agency didn’t know how many of them would agree to take it at this time.
“At this time, some people are clamoring for the vaccine. Other people are hesitant. Some people are anti-vaxxers, however, want to have the vaccine, and this is true for workers in healthcare settings as well. Others are interested in having vaccines, but not right now for whatever their reasons are,” she explained.
DHEC has said they expect to keep receiving more doses of the Pfizer vaccine every week and has plans for more expansive administration of the vaccine once the supply is in the state.
“We have more than 1,200 locations that have applied to be vaccinators, so we have sites around the state. But we don’t have the supply to turn them on yet and receive the vaccine,” she said.
Once more doses reach South Carolina, Kelly said vaccination locations will include CVS, Walgreens, other pharmacy chains, local pharmacies, primary care providers, and other health centers across the state.
Kelly said DHEC is looking into drive-through vaccination locations, as well. She said she is also working with Prisma Health to open mobile vaccination clinics to be sent to rural areas of the state.
She also explained supply could be less of a concern in a few months once other vaccines seek authorization. However, DHEC isn’t relying on those extra doses when they are making their plans.
For now, Kelly said people closely examining the percent of vaccine doses that have been administered should know that number reflects how many people were vaccinated a couple of days before it is reported and doesn’t include scheduled appointments.
“Hang on a little bit longer,” she said. “These numbers are going are changing right before our eyes.”