COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Vaccine Advisory Committee for DHEC met on Wednesday to discuss how the vaccine roll-out has been going across the state. They also addressed some of the challenges South Carolina has been facing as the vaccine becomes more available.
The concerns come after Governor Henry McMaster announced that beginning on Monday, Feb. 9 all South Carolinians over 65-years-old will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell was joined by leaders of various organizations such as the Columbia Urban League, the South Carolina Hospital Association, Prisma Health, the Office of Rural Health, the South Carolina Health Care Association, and several others.
During the two hour meeting, different leaders conveyed concerns they have noticed in different sectors of the community.
Some leaders said there is misinformation and mistrust within some communities regarding the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, and there is a need for DHEC to simplify the messaging so that all community members can understand relevant facts and information.
“The lack of understanding is not because we are not saying it, it’s because people cannot grasp the numbers,” Reverend Brenda Kneece said.
Dr. Bell thanked Kneece for her insight into the perspective of community members.
“The many things that we are potentially taking for granted in our messaged that we believe are being understood,” Dr. Bell said. “But the perspective of those we are trying to reach is really most important. We need to walk in their shoes and tailor our messages.”
Other leaders were concerned that those with disabilities and pre-existing conditions are not being prioritized. Some said there’s also confusion regarding who is included in groups 1A and 1B.
DHEC’s guidelines say Phase 1A includes healthcare workers, all residents 65 and older, parents or caretakers of medically fragile children, and COVID-19 vaccine critical state and local government employees. Phase 1B includes law enforcement officers, corrections officers, grocery store workers, teachers, daycare workers, and more.
Another central concern was equitably providing the vaccine to rural areas, with the CEO of the Office of Rural Health saying that he believes DHEC’s per capita distribution model is going to leave counties without a hospital suffering the most.
Concern for rural distribution was also echoed by Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter.
“Many people are talking about how their populations are being left out; we’ve got whole counties where there are no places accepting vaccinations,” Carpenter said.
Another concern discussed was how to make sure only those who qualify for the vaccine are receiving the vaccine.
Dr. Bell responded to many of these concerns, saying DHEC is working to combat these issues.
“For the second consecutive week South Carolina has ranked fifth in the country at about 78 percent,” Dr. Bell said. “However, I appreciate the questions we have heard today about who is getting these vaccines. We want to make sure they get in arms, but that they get into the right arms.”
Dr. Bell stressed her focus on giving presentations to various community groups over the last few weeks to combat misinformation.
She said the focus is to educate people about what actions they need to take such as wearing a mask, getting tested at least once a month, and social distancing, as well as, the safety of the vaccines.
DHEC plans to take all the concerns voiced into account in the coming weeks as the vaccine roll-out continues. The next committee meeting will be held in two weeks.