Nearly 40,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in South Carolina

Updated: Dec. 31, 2020 at 7:20 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Health officials said nearly 40,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in South Carolina.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said as of Thursday morning 39,100 doses of the vaccine have been given in the state. So far, the state has received more than 200,000 doses.

Currently those being given the vaccine are healthcare personnel, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. That group of people, designated as Phase 1A recipients, is expected to continue to get the vaccines through February of 2021.

Then people aged 75 years and older, as well as frontline essential workers, are expected to get the vaccine in late winter or early spring once 70% of the Phase 1A recipients are vaccinated, according to DHEC.

Health officials estimated that the rest of the population will receive the vaccination in the spring and summer.

“Everyone in our state who wants to be vaccinated will get their turn,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler with DHEC on Thursday afternoon.

State health officials held an online meeting on the vaccine update which can be watched below.

Health officials give update on COVID-19 vaccines in South Carolina

Health officials are holding a press conference on COVID-19 vaccines in South Carolina

Posted by Live 5 News on Thursday, December 31, 2020

“Distributing mass doses of COVID-19 vaccine rapidly, effectively and equitably represents a public health logistics effort on a scale not seen before in the U.S. and is a massive undertaking,” DHEC officials said. “DHEC is leading this effort in South Carolina, but it could not be accomplished without our many state and federal partners.”

State health officials say South Carolina, like other states, has faced several challenges due to the unique requirements of the mass distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Challenges to date include limited supplies of vaccine during the phased rollout, complex logistics and adapting to changes in federal guidance,” DHEC officials said. “DHEC anticipates additional challenges to evolve but is confident that with collaborative problem solving and support of our partners we will meet each new challenge head on.”

DHEC provided the following additional information.

Preparing for Historic Ultra-Cold Storage Requirements

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the first authorized vaccine in history that must be stored at ultra-cold frozen temperatures, requiring locations who receive it to have specialized ultra-cold freezers with temperature monitoring capabilities in place. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine also is only shipped in packages of 975 doses, meaning the location that receives a direct shipment of it must have the ability to give in a timely fashion or store in an ultra-cold freezer. While these logistical challenges make distribution of the vaccine complicated, DHEC and our partners identified storage opportunities and expanded capacity months ago.

Adjusting to Rapidly Changing Federal Guidance

In addition, federal guidance regarding populations to be vaccinated changed just as the initial vaccine distributions were sent to the states. This resulted in a significant increase in the population included in Phase 1a. In South Carolina and other states, agencies such as DHEC then had to review and edit some of the plans and protocols that were in place for in-state distribution. The same assessment and changes then had to be made at the local level as hospitals and distribution sites began to receive shipments and vaccinate their employees. The sites are now actively vaccinating per state and federal guidelines as aggressively as possible.

Similar to the rest of the nation, the initial process has required states to remain flexible as we adjust and adapt to the evolving situation. Work continues at large vaccination sites across the state with plans to begin distribution to smaller facilities in the next week.

Progressing from the Initial Phase into Widespread Availability in Summer

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has provided guidance for categories of individuals to include in Phases 1a, 1b, and 1c. South Carolina is currently in Phase 1a and is vaccinating individuals in that phase per the SC COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee’s recommendations based off of the ACIP guidance. The committee is currently working to translate the national Phase 1b and Phase 1c recommendations to action in South Carolina. The following outline provides an overview of the anticipated categories for each phase. This is subject to change at any time for many reasons, such as a change in federal guidance or in the SC COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee’s recommendations for South Carolina.

Phase 1a

  • Residents and staff of long-term care facilities
  • Healthcare personnel (with initial focus on healthcare workers critical to the mission of preventing death), including: 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, occupational therapists, translators with direct patient contact, students (medical, nursing, PT, RT) Ancillary staff directly interacting with suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 patients: laboratory personnel handing 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 Paid and volunteer medical first responders (EMS, fire department, and law enforcement personnel who provide emergency medical services as certified EMTs or paramedics) 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 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 at risk for COVID-19 exposure Autopsy room staff, coroners, embalmers, and funeral home staff at risk of exposure to bodily fluids Dentists and dental hygienists and assistants

Phase 1b

  • Persons aged 75 years and older (with or without underlying health conditions)
  • Frontline essential workers (sectors included by ACIP include fire fighters, law enforcement officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector—teachers, support staff, and daycare workers)

Phase 1c

  • Essential workers not included in Phase 1b (examples included by ACIP include people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health staff who are non-frontline healthcare workers)
  • Persons aged 65-74 years (with or without underlying health conditions)
  • Persons aged 16-64 years with underlying health conditions that increase the risk for severe COVID-19 (more information to follow from the SC COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee)

As vaccine supply increases, ACIP vaccination recommendations will expand to include more groups, in Phases 2 and possibly 3. The following outline provides an overview of estimated timeframes for each phase:

  • Early Winter – Vaccinations for Phase 1a is anticipated to continue through February 2021.
  • Late Winter to early Spring – Based on current CDC guidance, the state will move into Phase 1b once 70 percent of South Carolinians identified in Phase 1a have been vaccinated.
  • Spring to Summer – Phase 2 is anticipated to begin in Spring 2021, with the vaccines expected to become available for the general public during the summer and fall of 2021.

Understanding the Next Steps in the Phased Vaccine Roll Out

Everyone in our state who wants to be vaccinated will get their turn. In the meantime, we commit to keeping you informed of the progress being made in the phased approach for administering vaccines and will let you know when and where you can receive it. We call on all South Carolinians to step up by stepping back until it is their turn in the plan.

For individuals in Phase 1a who have not been contacted regarding an opportunity for vaccination yet, DHEC is working with our partners at SCHA and SCMA as well as numerous independent providers and vaccination locations to onboard them and allocate and distribute vaccines in the coming weeks. As more locations for vaccination become available, we will be contacting healthcare workers via their employers, associations, or licensing entities to provide a way for them to sign up if they wish to be contacted when it is their turn to make an appointment for vaccination. It is going to take several weeks to a couple of months to vaccinate all members of Phase 1a, so please be patient as we go through this process.

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