Bell: State health department overwhelmed by vaccine call volume

Updated: Jan. 20, 2021 at 6:24 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Health officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control met on Wednesday afternoon to discuss where South Carolina stands in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

South Carolina’s State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell admitted DHEC is overwhelmed with calls about COVID-19. She also said the demand for vaccines in our state is much higher than the supply.

READ MORE: COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker

“Until this past week, the weekly allocation of Pfizer doses was sufficient to meet most of the vaccine orders placed by hospitals,” Bell said. “Hospital orders for this coming week, however, totaled more than four times the amount previously allocated to the state. As a result, DHEC can only fulfill 20 to 25 percent of each hospital’s first dose of the Pfizer orders.” Bell said second dose orders were able to be fulfilled.

To address the high call volumes, Bell said DHEC will be setting up a call center specifically for COVID-19 vaccine questions which should be live in a few days.

When asked why South Carolina opened up vaccines for people 70 and older when members of Operation Warp Speed recommended last week that states expand access to people 65 and older, Bell said it comes down to supply and demand.

“Since South Carolina opened vaccinations to those 70 and older, the demand for appointments has drastically increased. At this time South Carolina is not expanding the groups of people in phase 1A to include the Jan. 12 recommendations [from Operation Warp Speed] because current demand for vaccines currently exceeds supply,” she added.

While the state is still in Phase 1A, Bell met with the Vaccine Advisory Committee to talk about who else could be considered for the next phase. Currently, DHEC’s website says Phase 1B will include “frontline essential workers” like corrections officers, U.S. Postal Service workers, grocery store employees and educators.

The committee recommended the following groups also be included: employees who provide topical oxygen therapy to wounds like decubitus ulcers; birth doulas; school employees providing care for disabled children dependent on assistance; and substitute teachers.

This is just a recommendation and will not be official until DHEC makes an announcement.

The committee also wants to recommend prioritizing frontline essential workers who have an underlying condition.

“So rather than vaccinating all frontline essential workers, they would only be those with a medical condition,” assistant state epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly said. “That would decrease the number of healthy 20 years old receiving vaccines and would get us through phase 1b more quickly.”

DHEC’S interim public health director Dr. Brannon Traxler said Phase 1B is still expected to start in early spring.

“We are hopeful in the not too distant future there will be additional vaccines coming on board and/or an increase in the production or allocation,” she added.

You can get the latest on the vaccine roll-out in South Carolina by clicking: here.

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