‘These are difficult decisions’: DHEC addresses public’s concerns on who to include in vaccine phases

‘These are difficult decisions’: DHEC addresses public’s concerns on who to include in vaccine phases

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – The leading doctor in South Carolina’s fight against COVID-19 said she knows that the vaccine distribution process has been frustrating for many people who are waiting to see if they will be next in line.

South Carolina Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said during a media briefing on Wednesday that the Department of Health and Environmental Control has received a lot of questions from the community, the media and lawmakers on when certain people will be included in the vaccination plan.

There have been concerns that smokers will be included in Phase 1c because the CDC has listed smoking as an underlying condition, while others are asking why those with disabilities aren’t considered a priority.

Bell explained that the South Carolina Vaccine Advisory Committee (VAC) has been meeting to consider all the input from the community, along with CDC recommendations.

Committee members then go over this input and make recommendations on who should be in Phase 1b. Their goal is to make sure the distribution of the vaccine is fair and equitable across the state.

“These are really difficult decisions that need to be made until more vaccine is available for everyone,” Bell said.

While the VAC has made recommendations for Phase 1b, Bell said that Phase 1a is the only guidance that has been formalized, which includes frontline healthcare workers and those who are 65 and older.

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She added that at this point there is no timeline as to when the recommendations for Phase 1b will be finalized.

“We can’t state with any certainty as to when people in very large and ill-defined groups, like smokers, will be eligible to receive vaccine. And I know that’s very frustrating for people to hear because everyone wants to know exactly when they or someone they love or someone who has a health condition or disability can receive their shots,” Bell explained.

Some local residents say they’re 100% in favor of state leaders not adding more to the vaccine eligibilty list, until things go bit smoother for those still waiting in line for their dosages.

Kathy Bruni, 66, lives in Horry County. She’s part of Phase 1a of the state’s vaccine rollout plan.

To her surprise, Bruni just got vaccinated Wednesday afternoon, but she said the process of trying to roll up her sleeve was time consuming and extremely frustrating.

“There were multiple times I clicked on an appointment time, went through the registration process, and when I hit submit it said that time is no longer available, start again,” Bruni said. “Then [the next] appointment would [be available] a month later. I was getting really frustrated.”

Bruni said she was originally scheduled to get vaccinated in three months. After checking DHEC’s website every day, Bruni said she found an availability Wednesday.

But there was one problem. That vaccination appointment was in Chesterfield County, which is a three-hour drive away.

“I’m relieved I got the first one, but the second one they booked me back in 28 days,” Bruni said. “And [I told them] I am not coming back here, I’m not driving three hours each way, three hours up and three hours back.”

She said there’s no reason for her age group to deal with so much headaches trying to get vaccinated and feels DHEC’s focus needs to stay on fixing these appointment issues, and not adding more people to vaccine list.

“They would be fools to add another group right now because they cannot serve the people they have,” Bruni said. “I understand the demand is greater, I understand that. But a three month wait by just adding the 65-69 age group makes no sense whatsoever.”

During the media briefing, Bell was asked if she regretted instituting the phased vaccine rollout system instead of distributing the vaccine by age bracket, such as what’s being done in the United Kingdom.

Bell answered that we should not have any regrets about following science-based recommendations by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that said the rollout should be done in phases. She believes if the distribution was done by age brackets it would have left many essential people without a vaccine.

“If we had not had a phased rollout and we would have done it by age bracket, I think we could have had a situation to where individuals who were most mobile and had the most access to services could have received the vaccine ahead of others, including our healthcare workers, including those in our long-term healthcare facilities,” Bell explained.

She also explained the phased rollout plan is more beneficial to those who live in rural communities because it doesn’t become a first-come, first-served distribution.

Meanwhile, the message continues to be the same, that South Carolinians must practice patience because the demand for the vaccine is far outweighing the supply being sent to the state.

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