DHEC working on COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan; frontline workers will get first doses

DHEC working on COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan; frontline workers will get first doses

MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WMBF) - On Wednesday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control released details on the two COVID-19 vaccines likely heading to hospitals across the Grand Strand.

Moderna and Pfizer are two companies making headlines for vaccines with effectiveness rates of over 90%.

Dr. Linda Bell from DHEC said in a telebriefing Wednesday the news is encouraging as the state agency continues to work on vaccine distribution plans.

“We continue to be in close communication to our federal partners about the vaccine, about the expected availability, and the number of doses that may be available for an approved vaccine,” Bell said.

However, there’s still a long way to go before large portions of the area can get the vaccine.

DHEC will roll out who gets the vaccine and when they will get it in a phased approach, starting with populations most at risk, like frontline health care workers.

The agency also said while they won’t require people to get it, certain employers are well within their rights to require their employees to get a dose when it’s available.

The large logistical challenge is complicated by storage concerns for the vaccines. Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be kept at an extremely cold temperature.

It’ll also be sent out to states differently. Pfizer’s vaccine will come straight from the manufacturer while Moderna’s will come from the federal government, adding another layer of complexity.

DHEC also gave more information on how the vaccines will work.

“What we have seen in studies that have been published are that the neutralizing antibodies are produced very early on by these two vaccines, and may be produced so early on when a person is exposed to infection, that it will suppress the virus early enough that they don’t become contagious,” Bell said.

And while this seems like a fast moving process DHEC’s Dr. Jane Kelly said research on this vaccine started back in 2003 with the SARS outbreak, before being picked back up early this year.

“No steps have been skipped in this vaccine development. You have to take into consideration the longest steps in vaccine development are the research and pre-clinical trials and revving up for manufacturing. This work has been ongoing since 2003 with the advent of SARS,” Kelly said. “So there’s been more than a decade’s worth of pre-clinical research. The other thing that is unprecedented with this vaccine is on Jan. 10, China released the genetic code, the genome sequence. That’s like giving you the blueprint, like giving you the script for vaccine development.”

DHEC said there are currently 175 organizations applying to become providers. However, members of the state health agency said they have to consider who has the capacity for storing and handling the vaccines, especially with the intense temperature requirements Pfizer has.

According to DHEC officials, at this time they do not know how many doses the state will receive. They did say, however, when it comes time for the general public to get their vaccines, they will be available for free.

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