COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolinians who are over 65 years old can now get in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Monday, officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control stressed the importance of vaccinating those over 65 years old, saying that it was a conversation between Governor Henry McMaster’s office and DHEC about moving this group from Phase 1C to 1A.
“Expanding vaccine access to those 65 and older is an essential step in our plan for saving lives,” Dr. Michael Kacka, DHEC’s Chief Medical Officer for COVID-19, said. “We save lives by making sure those most susceptible to death and severe illness from COVID-19 are prioritized to receive vaccine first.”
However, despite the vaccine now being available to over 300,000 South Carolinians ages 65 to 69 years old, the supply of the vaccine and getting an appointment remains a challenge for many. DHEC officials said they’ve seen a large surge in the number of people trying to make an appointment this morning with their call line receiving about 1,000 calls an hour Monday morning with people trying to book an appointment.
One of those calls was from Amy Shell, who said it hasn’t been a simple process trying to make an appointment.
“I am so frustrated because it is not only affecting me, it is affecting others, too,” Shell said.
She said she called the DHEC vaccine information line, waited on hold for over an hour, and then was told that she couldn’t make an appointment without an email address.
Stephen White, DHEC’s immunizations director, said they’ve been working to make the process for getting an appointment easier. He said they have the COVID-19 vaccine information line where those over 65 can call and make an appointment over the phone, as well as a new pilot appointment system called the COVID-19 vaccine appointment system. White said they are working to roll out and fine-tune some of the issues with it.
The new vaccine appointment system was originally designed to replace the VAMS system, which many people have complained is confusing and difficult to navigate for an appointment. However, White said that VAMS has recently made improvements, and they are analyzing whether to use their new appointment system or the VAMS system as the permanent scheduling system.
“South Carolina has continued to work with the CDC VAMS team on upgrades as we move forward,” White said. “I think some upgrades were made over the weekend with a flexible scheduler which allowed for there to be a link for folks to click on without having to get an email invitation to the VAMS system.”
If you have questions or need help scheduling a vaccine appointment, DHEC is urging people to call their vaccine information line at 1-866-365-8110. It’s open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
DHEC warned that supply of the vaccine remains a challenge, and it will be months before everyone who wants the vaccine has access to it. However, DHEC officials said they are also monitoring the bill in the legislature that could potentially move teachers to Phase 1A.
“We are aware that the state legislature is discussing different timelines and phases for teachers to receive the vaccine so we will wait to see the results of that bill,” White said.