COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – As South Carolina forges ahead with its preparations to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available, there is a committee working behind the scenes to make sure every person is included in this distribution.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control started the Vaccine Advisory Committee at the end of September. It includes health care organizations, minority groups, those from the faith community and many others.
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Dr. Robert Saul, the president of the South Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians, has been part of those meetings.
“I think the general public should feel very confident about the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s gone through stringent development; it will go through stringent regulation,” Saul said.
DHEC leaders said these representatives help bring in more community input when it comes to distributing the anticipated vaccine, along with helping to get out the message on its safety and importance.
They also help advise state officials on how to fairly consider and prioritize who should receive the vaccine throughout the distribution phases as listed in the state’s COVID-19 vaccine plan.
Pediatricians are familiar with the use of vaccines to prevent and change the trajectory of an otherwise devastating disease.
“That’s one of the things pediatricians get very energized about is vaccines,” Saul said. “We’re talking about preventable diseases, and in my career, I have seen so many diseases gone from death-producing, to preventable and not seen. So vaccines, to me, are exciting.”
Saul explained that once the vaccine comes out, people will need to trust the process in making sure that everyone will get it.
“This isn’t going to turn around in a minute. It’s not going to turn around in a month, not by the end of the year. And people are going to be, once the vaccine is out there, some people might be clamoring for it and say, ‘I want it. I want it. Put me in front of the line.’ I think we have to trust the system that will be put in place in terms of distribution and allow that to play out as best we can,” said Saul.
Many families are wondering about where children will fall in this mix. As it stands now, they will not be among those first vaccinated. Vaccine trials also haven’t been conducted on children under the age of 12 yet.
Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 67,000 pediatricians across the country, called on researchers to not leave children out any longer.
“If we do not add children to these research trials very soon, there will be a significant delay in when children are able to access potentially life-saving vaccines. This is unconscionable,” the organization’s president, Dr. Sally Goza, said in a statement.
Saul said it’s unknown at this time when vaccinating children in South Carolina can start. But in the meantime, he emphasizes to the advisory committee that children do become infected with the virus through adults, and vice versa.
“They don’t pass it as well as adults, but they can pass it on,” he said. “So it’s important, especially as we look toward getting children back to school, and getting back into more social environments and school sports and all of those things, that we look for a strategy, a broad strategy, that will try to protect the public as much as possible.”
Down the line, when South Carolina has passed into a state of plentiful COVID-19 vaccines, Saul anticipates it will behave in a similar way to the flu shot.
“Life isn’t perfect. So even though, as we distribute the vaccine, and so many other people will get vaccines, there will still be illness,” he explained.
As with the flu shot, he said, not everyone is completely protected from the flu. But the risk of graver consequences because of contracting the infection is far less.
“If you get the flu shot, your risk of being hospitalized is like 90% less, your risk of dying from the flu is 90% less,” Saul explained. “So I would anticipate the same sort of thing with the COVID vaccine. Even if you get the COVID infection after you get the COVID vaccine, it’s going to be a markedly decreased infection, and the likelihood of succumbing to it would be very, very low, and that’s what’s important.”