When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available for you? It’s complicated.

When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available for you? It’s complicated.
Now that the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in the Palmetto State, people who have been hoping for the vaccine are wondering when it will be available for them. (Source: AP)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC/WMBF) - Now that the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in the Palmetto State, people who have been hoping for the vaccine are wondering when it will be available for them.

The answer depends on your profession, your age and your vulnerability to the disease as well as guidelines still to be finalized by the state’s health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says the following people will be part of Phase 1A, the first in line to receive the vaccine.

Phase 1-A

  • Persons performing direct medical care to suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 patients: medical house staff (i.e., interns, residents, fellows), nurses, nurse’s aides, physical therapists (PT), physicians, physician assistants, respiratory therapists (RT), speech pathologists providing swallowing assessments during a patient’s infectious period, students (medical, nursing, PT, RT)
  • Ancillary staff directly interacting with suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 patients: laboratory personnel handling potentially infectious specimens, phlebotomists, and radiology technicians
  • Emergency room staff in the above categories who provide direct patient care who are at high risk of exposure to undiagnosed, suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 patients
  • Nursing home and long-term care facility residents and staff
  • Paid and volunteer medical first responders (EMS, fire department, and law enforcement personnel who provide emergency medical services) and hospital transport personnel in direct contact with suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 patients
  • Persons providing direct medical care in correctional facilities
  • Persons providing direct medical care in dialysis and infusion centers
  • Workers in outpatient medical settings frequently treating persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection
  • Workers in settings where monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 infusions are given
  • Home health and Hospice workers
  • Public health nurses/personnel visiting facilities w/possible COVID-19 cases
  • Autopsy room staff, coroners, embalmers, and funeral home staff at risk of exposure to bodily fluids

Members of that group began receiving doses of the vaccines as early as Monday. The first Lowcountry health care worker, a pediatric registered nurse at MUSC, received her first dose of the vaccine Tuesday afternoon shortly before 1 p.m.

In a news conference last week, Gov. Henry McMaster provided preliminary details about the remaining phases. But these plans could change as the CDC and its advisory committee meet to recommend and vote on each one.

During the briefing, McMaster said people who are 75 years of age and older would be included in Phase 1-B, while those 65 years of age and older could be included in Phase 2.

The CDC’s advisory committee will be meeting this weekend to discuss and vote on recommendations for not only Phase 1-B but also Phase 1-C, which hasn’t been specifically drafted in South Carolina’s plan yet.

That means everything in the following phases are subject to change based on any changes the committee might make.

Phase 1-B

  • Workers and individuals who provide services which have a high risk of exposure due to interactions with the public. Examples include: remaining first responders, including fire and law enforcement personnel that don’t have face-to-face contact during emergency situations with the public.
  • Workers in jobs that provide critical services i.e., utility workers, water, trash, transportation (including bus drivers and Department of Transportation workers), waste removal
  • Agribusiness and food production workers i.e., those working in processing plants, canning facilities and others involved in food production
  • Persons who live and work in congregate settings i.e., group homes, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, jails and detention centers
  • People who are 75 and older
  • Persons with two or more of the following health risks/conditions: Cancer not in remission, chronic kidney disease, COPD, diabetes, disability, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, obesity, pregnancy and sickle cell disease

Phase 2

  • Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians
  • Grocery store, food service and food delivery workers
  • Service industry workers
  • Postal workers
  • Public transit workers
  • K-12 teachers and school staff
  • Childcare workers and staff
  • School bus drivers
  • Instructors and staff at higher education institutions
  • People age 65 and older
  • Persons with one of the following health risk conditions: cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, diabetes, disability, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, asthma, cerebral vascular disease, cystic fibrosis, hypertension, immunocompromise, liver disease and pulmonary fibrosis

Phase 3

  • Vaccine available to the entire population

DHEC officials say they expect the state to transition to Phase 1-B possibly by the end of January or early February.

But it will take longer for the rest of South Carolinians to receive their dose.

“I want to caution everyone: This will not be a fast process,” McMaster said at last week’s briefing. “I want to caution everyone: This will be a slow process all over the country. Most South Carolinians will not be vaccinated for months.”

The governor urged people to remain patient but also to remain vigilant, maintaining the use of face coverings, hand washing and social distancing.

“Now is not the time to let her guard down,” he said.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell repeated McMaster’s pleas for people to continue with the safety protocols they have been repeating since March.

“It is going to be quite some time before we will realize the promise of having significant coverage for the majority of our population in South Carolina,” she said. “We are not near the end of this.”

Bell noted that 35 of the state’s 46 counties were in a downward trajectory for COVID-19 spread a month ago. But as of last week, only six counties were trending downward during the worst week the state has seen in terms of the number of new confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

DHEC officials expect between 200,000 and 300,000 doses of the vaccine to arrive by the end of the year.

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