COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control made a major change to its Phase 1-A in the vaccine distribution process.
The agency announced on Friday that South Carolina hospitals should begin to vaccinate their admitted patients who are 65 years and older, this is as long as that patient does not currently have COVID-19.
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The move to add these patients to Phase 1-A is part of DHEC’s efforts to speed up the number of South Carolinians getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
“DHEC, Governor McMaster, SCHA and hospitals agree this will be another great step toward vaccinating our most vulnerable residents. Vaccination to these individuals can occur immediately, depending on availability of vaccine and staffing,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, the interim public health director.
During a media briefing on Friday, Traxler added that this will apply to anyone who is admitted to a hospital in the future who is 65 years and older. But noted that she doesn’t recommend that people be admitted to the hospital just in order to be vaccinated.
She said that this decision to vaccinate people in hospitals that are 65 years and older helps to target a part of the community that is vulnerable to the virus.
Some hospitals shared with our news team that they were a little surprised by the announcement but are excited to help those in some of the most vulnerable populations.
Melanie Matney, the chief operating officer for the South Carolina Hospital Association, said although many hospitals want to meet DHEC’s request, it may not be possible, due to limited doses of the vaccine.
“South Carolina hospitals believe that it’s imperative the COVID-19 vaccines be administered as quickly as possible but there are many challenges to overcome,” Matney said. “The first one is the limited vaccine quantity and that it’s not available in wide quantities across the state evenly. There are some hospitals that have some vaccine available as they continue to vaccinate phase 1-A staff in their communities. And there are some that do not. I just heard from [one] hospital that gave their last dose and won’t get more until Monday or Tuesday of next week. So there are challenges across the state with vaccine availability that we‘ll continue to address and hopefully over time our state will continue to get more vaccines.”
Conway Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Richardson said his hospital is 100% in favor of vaccinating the 65 and up population but he’s a bit concerned about providing the vaccine to patients admitted into the hospital.
“If a patient’s been admitted they obviously have something going on,” Richardson said. “If they had a side effect to the vaccine, would it be attributed to whatever was going on with the acute illness or would it be attributed to the vaccine. That could get a little bit confusing. Not necessarily opposed to it because again, I want as many people vaccinated as possible. But that may take a little bit more work and thought.”
Richardson said his hospital sees a large population of people with chronic medical conditions in the 65 and up category. And for that reason, he supports DHEC adding that population to Phase 1-A.
“We see a fair number of people severely affected by the virus in the 65 and up category,” Richardson said.
He said right now, the hospital would need additional shipments of the vaccine doses, in order to meet DHEC’s request to begin vaccinating that population admitted inside their hospital walls.
“We would have to be re-supplied, there’s no way. We would either need our shipments to be larger weekly or more frequently during the week,” Richardson said.
Our news team reached out to other hospital agencies in our area for their response to DHEC’s request.
The spokesperson for Tidelands Health provided this statement to our news team:
“DHEC’s announcement this afternoon allowing hospitals to begin administering the COVID-19 vaccine to hospitalized patients ages 65 and older is welcome news. We are eager to continue moving forward to vaccinate as many individuals as possible in accordance with DHEC guidelines. It is important to know the vaccine will not be clinically appropriate for all hospitalized patients 65 and older. Patients on certain medications or with certain medical conditions may not be appropriate candidates for the vaccine while hospitalized. Physicians will assess each patient’s medical condition and may order the vaccine if it is clinically appropriate to do so.
This guidance applies only to patients 65 and older who have been admitted to the hospital. The vaccine will not be administered to patients receiving care in the emergency department. Tidelands Health is actively working to secure as much vaccine as possible for our region. In addition to vaccinating our own workforce, we continue to administer vaccinations to community-based Phase 1a workers such as home health and hospice workers, public health nurses, dentists, funeral home workers and others.”
Grand Strand Medical Health spokesperson said their medical staff are continuing to administer vaccines to healthcare workers, first responders and other healthcare providers in the community, and are discussing how to move forward with vaccinating patients.