‘We’re very concerned’: AARP SC challenges DHEC on vaccine plan

Updated: Feb. 1, 2021 at 11:11 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - As the state forges ahead with COVID-19 vaccinations, AARP South Carolina is challenging the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s vaccination distribution plan.

The organization is calling on DHEC to better prioritize those most vulnerable to the virus.

“We have a motto in our organization that says we want to be a wise friend and a fierce defender and right now we’re weighing the fierce defender side,” Teresa Arnold, director of AARP SC, said.

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Arnold is a member of the South Carolina Vaccine Advisory Committee. However, she said she was never given the opportunity to weigh in on DHEC’s vaccine distribution plan.

During a virtual news conference Monday, AARP SC, along with representatives from several other organizations, urged DHEC to prioritize people 50 and older.

They said data shows 95% of COVID-19-related deaths are among that age group.

“We’re very concerned about that,” Arnold said.

Right now, only people 70 and up, as well as hospital patients 65 and older can get vaccinated.

Anyone else 65 and older is in Phase 1c of DHEC’s vaccine distribution plan after frontline essential workers.

During last week’s DHEC board meeting, state health officials said they believe allocating vaccine doses by population is the best way to vaccinate more people as fast as possible.

However, AARP believes DHEC should instead use the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, which prioritizes older populations.

Arnold referenced a heat map on social vulnerability in South Carolina that shows where the index is higher with COVID-19 infections and death rates.

A heat map on social vulnerability in South Carolina shows where the index is higher with...
A heat map on social vulnerability in South Carolina shows where the index is higher with COVID-19 infections and death rates.

“We need to make sure we’re going to where the COVID rates are the worst because that will help us get a handle on it,” Arnold said. “It’s truly not just a scientific decision. It’s a moral and ethical decision.”

But, DHEC is defending its current allocation plan.

Dr. Michael Kacka, the department’s chief medical officer for COVID-19, said the plan was proposed by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices. He said the scarce vaccine supply remains an issue.

“We will continue to look at our allocation plans and as we move forward, begin to tweak it to make sure we’re getting it to the people that need it the most,” Dr. Kacka said.

The AARP also mentioned a new study they conducted titled “Health Disparities Among Older South Carolinians.”

It highlights higher COVID-19 rates among African Americans, as well as a push for better access to healthcare and vaccinations for the demographic.

Kimberly Tissot, the executive director of ABLE SC, also addressed the lack of priority for people with disabilities.

She graded the state’s efforts an F.

“We have completely been disregarded and we’re looked at like our lives do not matter saving,” Tissot said. “I can’t tell you how disappointed our community is.”

AARP SC plans to release the entire report on Health Disparities Among Older South Carolinians within the next week.

The organization is also pushing to amend SC House Bill 3707, which would direct DHEC to focus on vulnerable populations in its vaccine distribution plan.

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