COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - Leaders from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control gave a two-hour long update to the state senate’s Medical Affairs Committee Tuesday afternoon.
Legislators raised a variety of concerns related to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine - perhaps most notably: how the department is readying itself for Wednesday’s start date of allowing people ages 70 years and older to begin making appointments for the vaccine.
Senators gave anecdotes of residents experiencing issues with the call line DHEC advertised would be available to help with finding the right place to make an appointment. An interactive map listing vaccine providers was short-lived, after crashing and then ultimately being taken down late Monday afternoon. DHEC has promised it will return on Wednesday.
“We thought that when we said, ‘Look on Wednesday,’ people would start looking on Wednesday. Because the 15th was Wednesday. And so I can’t answer the question about why the website crashed, but that was when we were prepared, or we were preparing for that inundation of calls,” explained DHEC’s acting director, Marshall Taylor. “And I understand, don’t get me wrong, the public wants the vaccine. And from DHEC’s perspective, that’s a great thing; we want everybody to get vaccinated when they can get vaccinated when it’s their turn. But we did not expect the inundation that we got immediately; we were thinking that it was going to happen on Wednesday.”
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Taylor told the committee that DHEC is working with the state’s emergency management department to add additional hotline resources that are used during hurricanes.
Taylor said he thinks they’ll be prepared if people gravitate more toward using the website.
“There will be a map, and it will show where there are available appointments. You’ll have a map, but you’ll also have a list of every provider in the state, and the provider will either be green or red,” Taylor explained. “If it’s green, that means appointments are available, and it will provide contact information for how to get ahold of that provider; if it’s red, don’t waste your time calling the provider.”
Taylor said this is a short-term fix for helping South Carolinians make vaccine appointments. DHEC is working to create a statewide appointment system: a one-stop-shop of a website where people can sign up directly with the provider.
It could take a couple more weeks before this is available, Taylor said.
He also cautioned that most of the appointments available in the state have already been booked by Phase 1a healthcare workers, so there won’t be much available come Wednesday.
“Some of the 1a people (when I say 1a, I’m talking about healthcare workers) - their appointment is still to come. So the 70+ are going to fall around those people who already have appointments,” Taylor said.
The state - and the country - are continuing to be challenged by a limited supply of the vaccine.
“This is not going to be a fast process until vaccine really starts flowing into the state,” said Taylor.
One senator asked what was the point for people to start calling in then. Taylor maintained that there will be availability, but the map helps show just what that looks like.