DHEC Care Line sees unprecedented call volume as thousands try to schedule COVID-19 vaccine appointments

DHEC Care Line sees unprecedented call volume as thousands try to schedule COVID-19 vaccine

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Getting the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be a challenge. Even though those age 70 and older can now sign up to get the shot in South Carolina, DHEC’s website shows there are currently more appointments booked than vaccines available.

Wednesday, the agency’s Care Line, which provides assistance and phone numbers to people to schedule a vaccine appointment, saw record level call volumes, so many that the system was down most of the day.

“We had more than 5,000 people calling into our Care Line at once,” said DHEC interim director Dr. Brannon Traxler. “To put that in perspective, that is just shy of the number of calls they handle for us in a week, an entire week.”

The agency has doubled its call center staff from 30 employees to 61, but they still anticipate long wait times. While the number of calls has overwhelmed their system, DHEC says it’s a good sign that people are eager to get vaccinated. Dr. Traxler says they are adding new vaccination sites every week.

“We ask all South Carolinians to please be patient as we make sure the limited doses of the vaccine available are provided first to the most vulnerable,” Dr. Traxler explained.

As of Tuesday, DHEC’s website shows only about 52,000 Pfizer BioNTech doses available, but more than 105,000 people have scheduled appointments.

“We get roughly 60,00 doses a week for the entire state, but we estimate there to be about ten times more people than that who are 70 or older in South Carolina,” noted Dr. Traxler.

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Dr. Traxler says she anticipates the same volume of weekly doses for the rest of January, but DHEC is hopeful that number will soon grow. The agency is preparing for the day more shots are available by announcing more than 150 immediate openings for critical employees, like nurses, pharmacists, paramedics, and administrative assistants.

“If someone has been qualified on how to give a vaccine, how to give a shot, those folks we really want to apply,” said Marcus Robinson, DHEC chief human resources officer.

Robinson says they are looking to bring on these employees as soon as possible, saying they could be hired and start working within days or weeks. The process usually takes months.

“We need people to apply for positions in the Upstate, Midlands, Low Country, and the Pee Dee region, so it’s a lot of flexibility with the positions we have posted,” Robinson explained.

There are both full time and part-time positions ranging in pay from $13 to $45 an hour. DHEC wants to ensure every community has a vaccination site, and they understand some rural areas are currently without one. If you qualify for a vaccine but don’t have a provider nearby, DHEC says you have two options.

“One option would be to travel to the nearest location that did have it, and the other would be to be patient, as it is coming to their community,” said Dr. Traxler.

With the hospital capacity rate statewide at more than 84%, some hospitals are canceling elective surgeries to free up staff and bed space. Health officials are begging you to do your part to stop the spread.

If we don’t act now, we could face many dark months ahead,” said Dr. Traxler.

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