Smokers could be eligible for COVID vaccine in Phase 1C ahead of general public

Updated: Feb. 8, 2021 at 1:25 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Thousands of vaccines have already been administered and appointments are booked for months for those still waiting.

As it stands right now, those with “underlying health conditions” are eligible to get a vaccine in Phase 1C in South Carolina. Some of those include Chronic Kidney Disease, heart conditions and cancer. According to the CDC, smoking is also on the list.

“I understand smokers are at higher risk,” Eva Mueller, who’s been smoking for 15 years, says. “With me being a smoker, I fully understand that. But I think kids, elderly, first responders – they all should be first.”

While Mueller is ready to get the vaccine, she doesn’t necessarily think smokers should be given preferential treatment.

“Honestly, I think they should be with the regular population,” Mueller says.

According to doctors, there is a science behind smoking being considered an underlying health condition and them being eligible for the vaccine before the general public. Doctors say smokers have an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and they’re at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, requiring an admission to the ICU and being placed on a ventilator.

“From a resource utilization standpoint, these patients are very sick for long periods of time, they’re in the hospital for a long period of time,” Dr. Patrick Looser, an Interventional Cardiologist at LowCountry Cardiology, says. “If we can vaccinate them, and prevent these severe cases of illnesses, we can free up hospital resources and staff to treat other patients.”

But Looser sees the arguments on both sides.

“I think it’s a very complex, ethical question to answer,” Looser says. “I don’t think there’s a right answer. Certainly, some people can make the argument smoking is a choice. They’ve chose to do this to themselves. And so they should not be prioritized. And I totally understand that argument. I think, from my perspective and what we’re seeing in the hospital, it would make sense to prevent these severe cases of infection first and vaccinate the highest risk group first.”

Overall Looser says he agrees with the guidelines that put smokers above the general population because of them being at a higher risk for infection.

According to SCDHEC officials, the Vaccine Advisory Committee is aware the CDC includes “smoking” as those at increased risk, however, the VAC hasn’t drafted recommendations in regard to smokers at this time in South Carolina.

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