COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster announced Tuesday morning people in the state’s Phase 1B vaccine rollout will be eligible to receive their vaccine starting Monday.
Along with that announcement, he also said Phase 1B was being expanded to include additional people.
McMaster said there are about 2.7 million South Carolinians who will be eligible in Phase 1B.
“Throughout South Carolina’s vaccination efforts, our priority has been – and continues to be – saving lives,” McMaster said. “In the month of February, South Carolina made tremendous progress on expanding access to vaccinations as the supply of vaccine increased. Our hospitals, pharmacies and healthcare providers became more nimble and efficient at getting shots in arms. Because of these successes, we’re now in a position to make the majority of South Carolinians eligible to receive the vaccine.”
As of Monday, the following people will be able to make appointments to receive the vaccine:
- Anyone aged 55 and up
- People 16 or older with increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease, including those with the following conditions:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic lung disease
- Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2)
- Down syndrome
- Heart disease
- Solid organ transplant
- Sickle cell disease
- People who have a developmental or other severe high-risk disability
- Frontline workers with increased occupational risk who are in-person at their place of work and perform a job that puts them at increased risk of exposure because of their frequent close and ongoing contact with others in the work environment, including:
- School staff (K-12) and daycare workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Grocery store workers
- Law enforcement officers
- People at increased risk in settings where people are living and working in close contact, including:
- Residents and workers in group home settings for the mentally or physically disabled or those with behavioral or substance abuse conditions
- Workers and residents in homeless shelters
- Workers and residents in community training homes
- State and local correctional facility staff with direct inmate contact
- Correctional and immigration detention facility inmates
- Migrant farmworkers living in shared housing or reliant on shared transportation
- All workers in healthcare and community health settings who have routine, direct patient contact and who were not vaccinated in Phase 1A.
“Our state’s vaccine plan prioritizes those with greatest risk, while ensuring equal access to the vaccine for every South Carolinian aged 16 and over,” South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Director Dr. Edward Simmer said.
McMaster urged people who are not included in Phase 1B to not “jump ahead” in line before others.
“What we are working on here is identifying those people at the greatest risk and vaccinating them first,” he said.
“The vast majority of those who died were over the age of 55, so by adding the age 55 group in 1b we are going to be able to address that at the same time we are going to continue focusing on vaccinating those 65 and over,” Simmer said.
Simmer also said that he hopes that by summer, every South Carolinian will have access to this vaccine and that the state will be close to herd immunity by then, which would allow the state to “start to return to normalcy”
But, he said, even as the vaccine rolls out to more people, he said it is still important that people continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, and that includes people who have already been vaccinated.
McMaster said the expanded Phase 1B means that more than half of the state’s population will be eligible to receive the vaccine.
Simmer said the state will rely on the “honor system” in distributing the increased number of vaccine doses.
“If you’re 55 and older, you can simply show an ID that shows your age,” Simmer said. “For others, that’s going to be self-annotation. We’re going to trust South Carolinians to tell the truth and say, ‘Yes, I have this medical condition’ or ‘Yes, I’m in an employment situation that meets the criteria.’”
With the announcement, McMaster renewed his push to fully reopen the state’s schools, something he has called on districts to do for months.
“We know that students have lost significant learning progress due simply to be out of the classroom. It is clear, not only in South Carolina, but all over the country,” he said. “Parents should not have to choose between their jobs and their children. Parents must have the option of sending their children to school, five days a week, face to face instruction. That is why they pay taxes, our schools must - repeat, our schools, all of our schools - must open five days a week.”
He repeated a call on the General Assembly to send a bill to his desk requiring all school districts to reopen schools to five-day in-person instruction.
“There are no more excuses or justifications for every one of our schools, not to be open five days a week for face to face instruction,” McMaster said. “The consequences of not doing that are immeasurable.”
Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said it is time for districts to put their plans into action to get teachers vaccinated and fully reopen the state’s 1,267 schools.
“I’ll be very very clear and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] backs me up on this: The research shows you can open school safely,” she said. “You do not have to have vaccine in order to open school safely.”
Spearman said her message to teachers is to take the vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.
“Do not wait. It is safe,” she said. “And our students need you in the classroom delivering high quality instruction every day.”
Simmer said he expects Phase 1C to open in April, but it’s not clear who will be included in that phase since many who were originally listed under Phase 1C have now been moved up into the expanded Phase 1B plan.
The news conference comes a day after DHEC confirmed the state is expected to receive its first shipment of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses this week. Health officials said Monday that first shipment should contain approximately 41,000 doses.
The state remains in its Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout, which include people 65 and older, healthcare first responders and long-term care facility residents and support staff.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.