South Carolina teachers trekking north to get vaccinated

Updated: Mar. 1, 2021 at 6:01 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina teachers are crossing the North Carolina border to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, South Carolina is in Phase 1A of its vaccine roll-out. Despite an outspoken advocacy campaign by teacher groups and a legislative push, teachers remain in Phase 1B.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control scheduled Phase 1B groups to be vaccinated in the early Spring.


North Carolina began vaccinating teachers on Feb. 24, and some are taking advantage.

Richland 2 English Teacher Taryn Auerbach said she received her first dose in Charlotte at StarMed Healthcare.

“They never questioned it, I was very open about I’m a teacher from South Carolina who is coming to get this. Their immediate response was oh, thank you for getting it, we’re so glad you were able to get it here, we’re sorry you weren’t able to get it in your own state.”

She said fear of the virus and inaction in the statehouse drove her to act.

“I feel very, very strongly that we need to be protected, and we’re not getting that from our state right now.”

She said she recognized Richland 2 has implemented significant safety measures, but they’re not enough to make her feel fully protected.

York County 4 Elementary teacher Kathryne Harris said part of the issue is a ticking clock and went to CaroMont Regional Medical Center in Gastonia.

“School is only in until May and June. So at a certain point, the idea of vaccinating teachers this school year kind of becomes a null and void situation. It will be summer before South Carolina gets to 1B at the rate we’re going,” she said.

One Midlands teacher requested to keep his identity private over retaliation concerns. He said he is immunocompromised but working near students in school.

After getting a recommendation from a teacher colleague, he said he called Atrium Health on Saturday and was able to get the shot hours later.

“I feel like there’s hope, I feel like there’s a possibility that if something was to happen to me, I’ll at least have a chance that maybe it would fight it in some way. Whereas 48 hours ago, I didn’t know if I was going to get sick this week,” he said.

It’s not clear when South Carolina teachers will be allowed to be vaccinated in their home state in Phase 1B.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control estimates there are 1,296,246 people in Phase 1A. As of Feb. 26, its dashboard states 668,014 people have been vaccinated within the state.

Governor Henry McMaster has been vocally opposed to moving teachers to Phase 1A over concerns the move would divert doses from the elderly.

In a Feb. 4 press conference he stated:

“We are not going to take a single vaccination away from those who are likely to die to give to someone who is not likely to die from the virus.”

McMaster has cited a study conducted by MUSC in Charleston showing only 1 percent of students and staff at Charleston County schools tested positive for the virus between the start of in-person school on Sept. 8 and winter break which started on Dec. 18.

The FDA Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should bolster the state’s vaccine supply, but it’s unclear what impact that will have on the movement of the phases.

DHEC expects to get 41,000 doses in the first shipment.

DHEC sent the following statement, but did not directly address the issue of teachers:

On February 27, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for a third brand of COVID-19 vaccine, the Janssen vaccine. This vaccine is also referred to as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as Janssen is a pharmaceutical company of the Johnson & Johnson corporation.

The Janssen vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine that protects people from severe COVID-19 illness. This vaccine’s development was held to the same rigorous testing, trial, and review standards as all other vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. More than 45,000 people participated in clinical trials for the Janssen vaccine.

“We believe this new vaccine will help speed up vaccination efforts across the state because it’s a single-dose shot and also can be stored easily, at refrigerated temperatures, for several months,” said Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist. “The Janssen vaccine will be key to our ongoing plans to bring vaccines out into our communities.”

The Janssen vaccine:

  • is a single-dose vaccine. It doesn’t require two shots like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines
  • is 85 percent effective overall in preventing severe disease and demonstrated complete protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death as of day 28 following vaccination
  • can be stored for at least three months at 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit
  • is equally effective in whites, blacks and Latinx persons
  • does not contain the live virus. You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine
  • has high protection against severe disease and death seen in all study sites, including South Africa where the B.1.351 variant is dominant

South Carolina is receiving its first allocation of Janssen vaccine this week, roughly 41,000 doses. DHEC is onboarding additional providers to help distribute the Janssen vaccine across the state.

We’ll have additional information about the Janssen vaccine in the coming days.

The Governor’s Office has not yet responded to a request for comment on this story.

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