South Carolina seniors aged 70 and older will be eligible to make appointments to get the coronavirus vaccine starting Wednesday, officials confirmed Monday morning.
The news was first announced by S.C. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, in a tweet.
Gov. @HenryMcMaster says that, starting Wednesday, those 70 and older may make vaccination appointments. I’ve asked: who can give vaccines, how many doses are available, is VAMS the only way to make appointments? I will provide an update when I have answers to these questions. pic.twitter.com/N2sa0uuY8C
— Tom Davis (@senatortomdavis) January 11, 2021
All South Carolinians aged 70 or older can schedule an appointment by using this online form, or by calling the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Care line: 1-855-472-3432 which currently includes several major hospitals, seven DHEC sites, a DHEC mobile clinic, and 12 Doctor’s Cares locations.
An additional 50 locations will be added to this list and available to provide vaccine by the beginning of next week, officials said.
Gov. Henry McMaster and DHEC made a formal announcement on the expansion early Monday afternoon.
“Beginning Wednesday … any South Carolina resident aged 70 or older, regardless of health status or preexisting conditions, can begin scheduling their appointment to receive COVID-19 vaccine,” according to the statement by the governor’s office.
State officials have reviewed data and “are confident” that the majority of health care workers and others included in the vaccine’s first phase have either received their shots or have scheduled an appointment, according to the statement.
Out of 146,500 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the state, 82,266 have been administered, a 56 percent rate, officials said. In addition, there are 94,926 appointments scheduled by individuals in the first phase to receive their shots during the coming weeks.
“Because we’ve seen a dramatic acceleration in vaccine usage and appointments in the last week, we have decided to speed things up again,” McMaster said. “We know that those 70 and older are at the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19. Making sure they have expedited access to the vaccine will help save lives.”
Current data shows that the COVID-19 mortality rate for patients aged 70 and older is about 655 per 100,000, a stark contrast to the 37 per 100,000 death rate for patients under 70, said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s interim director of public health.
More than 67 percent of COVID-19 deaths in South Carolina have been among those 70 and older, officials said.
Those aged 70 and older who wish to be vaccinated should know shots can only be administered by appointment and that they can’t walk into a health care facility and ask for the vaccine, officials said.
Patients will be asked for their driver’s license or other ID.
As residents and staff of long-term care facilities continue to get the Moderna vaccine through a federal program, state officials will soon be able to redirect some of that vaccine and make it available to others, according to the statement.
“South Carolina is committed to making the limited supply of COVID-19 available to rural and unserved communities who have residents currently eligible to receive vaccine,” officials said.
DHEC is expanding the number of mobile clinics to serve those communities, and is working with the South Carolina Vaccine Advisory Committee, Office of Rural Health, Office of Minority Affairs, South Carolina Hospital Association, South Carolina Medical Association and other state and local partners to set up locations for residents of rural and underserved communities to get vaccinated, officials said.
Authorities also noted that the two major COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States, the Pfizer and Moderna shots, have different protocols, are not interchangeable and patients need to get two doses of the same vaccine.
“Both shots are needed for complete protection against COVID-19,” officials said. “After receiving both shots, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 94-95 percent effective in preventing disease.”
After getting the first dose, patients will get a vaccine card reminding them when they’re due for the second dose, officials said. Most provider are also giving patients appointment reminders by phone, email or text message.
Until this week, access to the coronavirus vaccine was limited to front-line health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, hospital patients aged 65 or older who are not COVID-19 positive, and others included in the first phase of the vaccine rollout.
DHEC has been expanding the number of people eligible to be vaccinated during the first phase in an effort to increase immunizations.
Officials set a Friday deadline for those included in the first phase, or their employers, to schedule an appointment, or they’d have to wait until one of the later phases. Officials said they plan to evaluate how many people sign up over the coming days in order to gauge when to move forward into the next phase of the rollout.
The expansion came as lawmakers voiced increasing frustrations with the vaccine’s rollout.
On Jan. 5, Gov. Henry McMaster set the Friday deadline, which DHEC adopted.
On Friday, McMaster said the number of health care workers “not ready to get the vaccine” has been surprising, and that “just opens the door for the next group soon.”
He hinted then he was ready to use his executive authority to force an eligibility expansion.
“I can promise you whatever I need to do with the executive power given to the governor to move those lines, to get that vaccine into people’s arms as quickly as possible we will do, and I expect we’ll be having announcements soon.”
Asked by The Post and Courier on Friday what he would tell seniors about why they can’t get a shot in South Carolina, while other states had already made seniors eligible, the governor said DHEC was relying on guidelines and best practices by the CDC.
“The path that was chosen was deemed to be the best because the idea was to vaccinate the hospital workers that take care of COVID patients or who may need to be in the hospital who are very ill who don’t have the virus. We wanted to have those hospitals functioning to take care of the rest of us.”
“But I’m with you,” he told The Post and Courier. “It’s time to have a more simplified streamlined process to provide for the older people and those with serious conditions of any age to go ahead and get the vaccinations. The hospitals are working around the clock to find ways to accommodate more and more people, even to setting up drive-in clinics.”
More details are expected Monday afternoon.
This story is developing. Check back for more.
Seanna Adcox contributed to this report.