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Lowcountry COVID-19 vaccine providers shift to smaller clinics as demand slows

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.(Live 5/File)
Published: May. 20, 2021 at 6:47 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Health care providers across the Lowcountry are making changes to where and how they administer COVID-19 vaccines as demand slows at larger sites.

Roper St. Francis Healthcare will shut down its drive-thru mass vaccination site at the North Charleston Coliseum on June 4. Beginning June 7, it will shift to offering vaccinations at its Express Care locations.

That shift, according to Roper’s chief medical officer for ambulatory care Dr. Robert Oliverio, will make getting the vaccine more convenient, eliminating one barrier standing in peoples’ way: convenience.

In addition to providing a more convenient location, Oliverio said the Express Care vaccinations will also allow providers to ask patients who are there for other reasons if they’d like to get vaccinated.

Currently, just over 35% of South Carolinians aged 12 and up are fully vaccinated; the challenge for healthcare providers now is reaching those who remain interested but have yet to get the shot as well as those who are on the fence.

“Once availability of the vaccine came about and there was no decreased supply, everybody who wanted it could get it. Now the folks are… they’re thinking about it or they’re not going to get it; that’s what’s left in the population,” Oliverio said.

“I think most people who were super enthusiastic about getting the vaccine have already gotten the vaccine,” Dr. Danielle Bowen Scheurer, MUSC Health’s chief quality officer, said, “so really it’s just getting to making it as easy as possible.”

Dr. Aretha Powers, the chief executive officer of Fetter Healthcare, said vaccine demand has dropped significantly, meaning the larger sites aren’t as necessary.

Whereas at some points during the pandemic they would see 1,200 people per day show up to get vaccinated, now some days they see only around 50.

“I think one reason is we have more providers capable of administering the vaccines,” Powers said. “The second reason is we saw a tremendous decrease immediately when the Johnson & Johnson temporary cease happened.”

That decrease wasn’t just limited to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, she added.

Fetter has already scaled its vaccine team back due to the drop in demand. It is also using smaller spaces – Powers gave the example of a smaller part of a church instead of a gymnasium.

Scheurer said they are also seeing numbers drop.

“The large mass events are just not getting the traffic that they were getting in December, January and even through February, and it’s really important – especially with some pockets of vaccine hesitancy – that we make it as easy and accessible as possible,” she said.

In an email, the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control said it is seeing the shift toward smaller sites, but added larger sites still play a role in the vaccination effort.

“We’re seeing a success at both large-scale clinics and smaller community-based clinics right now, although there is a shift toward more and more smaller vaccination events. South Carolina’s CVC site, a mass vaccination clinic in Columbia, is one of the only CVC sites in the nation that is seeing an increase in the number of people showing up to get their shots every day -- so that’s a great success,” an agency spokesperson said. “… There isn’t an intent to do away with large-scale clinics necessarily, but there is focus on bringing vaccine to the people, and that’s best achieved through smaller, community-centric vaccination sites. We’re also working with the S.C. Department of Education and local providers for partnerships on school-based clinics for students 12 and older and their families.”

Winning over the vaccine hesitant

Beside the convenience of bringing vaccine sites to places people are already visiting, the smaller clinics, the providers said, can help assuage the fears of those who have yet to get vaccinated.

The more intimate settings can make doctors and other staff members more accessible to answer questions and clear up misconceptions about the vaccines.

“We know that the most important person that can kind of answer questions, allay fears is a provider, a trusted provider, and so having those folks available (in an Express Care setting) to talk to people at point-of-care is I think really important,” Oliverio said.

Oliverio said Roper is working to bring needles to arms; now, it needs to convince the holdouts to bring their arms to the needles.

MUSC said no clinic is too small for them; it is partnering with the Charleston RiverDogs to offer vaccines during two upcoming games at the downtown Charleston stadium.

“Making it seem more mainstream or mundane I think is also really helpful,” Scheurer said.

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