COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - State leaders from both sides of the aisle are using a wide range of adjectives from “frustrated” to “unacceptable” to “inexcusable” to describe the vaccine rollout in South Carolina.
On Monday, House Speaker Jay Lucas formed a committee under the House Legislative Oversight Committee to look at how state agencies, including the Department of Health and Environmental Control, are distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.
“What we are trying to do is to bring DHEC, in a public and transparent way, to respond to question so that there is good information. And if there are issues and challenges that DHEC has identified to tell us what those are so that the legislative body can take those up in relatively quick fashion,” Chairman Weston Newton, R-Beaufort, said.
Newton said he has seen lawmakers and other leaders tweet, call, and email officials to get information, but thinks this committee will be a better way to get answers to vaccine-related questions.
Rep. Neal Collins, R-Pickens, is one of the lawmakers who has been publicly calling for answers to some of his constituent’s frustrations. Recently, he said most people are frustrated with the registration process.
“It is just too cumbersome,” he said
Collins said he appreciates all DHEC and the Governor’s offices’ efforts to improve the process but sometimes finds it hard to get answers to his questions. Specifically, he said he heard from constituents that some doses of the vaccine were being wasted but he had to wait a few days for a response.
“I’ve heard from my constituents. They have seen waste and to deny there is waste is not productive. What [DHEC] can say is, ‘yes there is, and we are addressing that, and we are saving every dose possible. And Dr. Traxler, to her credit, did that in her news conference yesterday,” he said.
Newton said the types of frustrations Collins has heard from his constituents aren’t unique.
“Thousands of appointments that were scheduled. Vaccinations are being canceled. There is an enormous amount of disinformation and misinformation,” Newton said. “There is an opportunity for legislatures to ask direct questions and get answers from DHEC as well as from the hospital association and others that are integral partners in delivering these vaccines,” he said of this new ad hoc committee.
Moving forward, the Chairman said he hopes lawmakers won’t need to have repeated private communications with DHEC officials to answer questions from their community members. However, some lawmakers say holding hearings, debating bills, and passing legislation could take weeks at a time when the state is in crisis.
“A piece of legislation will take three weeks to pass,” Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, said. “Based on the statistics that I read, another 20 to 30 thousand people will get infected. Another several hundred will die. This is something that needs to be taken care of yesterday,” he said.
Harpootlian said he wants to see Gov. McMaster and DHEC take more action as they work to combat this virus.
“Their hands are in the air saying we are doing the best we can do. Or we don’t have enough vaccine. Or we have given it to the hospitals. Step up. The buck stops with them. Rather, the buck stops with the Governor. He needs to get out there,” he said.
McMaster has spent the past two days visiting vaccine distribution facilities around the state and answering questions from the press at each stop, but Harpootlian wants to see the Governor and DHEC use more of their executive power.
In response to frustration from lawmakers, a spokesperson for DHEC wrote, “DHEC leadership and public health officials will continue to work with our state’s elected officials and others to help ensure the vaccine doses our state has been administered to South Carolinians as quickly and seamlessly as possible.”
Yet, until South Carolinians see a change in the way the vaccine is being distributed, lawmakers feel public trust will be permanently damaged.
“The challenges are widespread. The frustration is widespread. The reported inefficiencies are widespread. What people want to know is when can they get the vaccine. How quickly? And who is that qualifies? And the fact that we are having trouble as a state to provide that timely information is inexcusable,” Newton said.