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S.C. lawmakers grill DHEC leaders on vaccine distribution process, speed

Updated: Jan. 21, 2021 at 7:46 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – For four hours on Thursday, leaders with the Department of Health and Environmental Control faced tough questioning from several South Carolina lawmakers about the vaccine distribution across the state.

Rep. Weston Newton, the chairman of the ad-hoc committee created to study DHEC’s receipt and distribution of the vaccines, opened up the meeting by saying that the state is moving at an “unacceptable” pace when it comes to distribution.

FORGING AHEAD | WMBF investigates South Carolina’s vaccine distribution process

He added that the purpose of the meeting was to bring transparency to the distribution process while also learning more about the challenges that DHEC is facing when it comes to receiving the vaccine and bringing it to people in the state.

One of the key issues that was brought up during the meeting was booking a second appointment.

Lawmakers said they have received questions from their constituents on what people should do about booking a second appointment in order to receive their second dose.

DHEC’s Acting Director Marshall Taylor is urging people that when they get their first dose, they work with the provider to get the second dose appointment because the VAMS system that the state is using isn’t very helpful in that matter.

“When you’re there, work with that provider to get your second dose appointment. And if you’ve already gone through the process and you can’t get an appointment at the same provider, call the provider and ask to get your second dose appointment with that provider,” Taylor said. “Because we want people to go back to the same provider for the second dose and the reason that is so important is that it’s an inventory control.”

Lawmakers also brought up concerns about the state not having enough supply to cover the second doses that people need to get.

DHEC RESOURCES TO HELP ANSWER QUESTIONS:

DHEC has issued updated guidance to vaccine providers, telling them to not hold back any first doses in order to get more people vaccinated at a faster pace. Some vaccine providers had been holding back first doses to make sure there were enough for people when they came back for their second dose.

Rep. Russell Ott fired back and asked how can the state be pushing out all of the vaccines and guarantee that people can get their second dose.

Taylor explained that first doses and second doses are sent separately to the state from the federal government. He explained that the total allotment of vaccines given to the state is 126,000 doses but that is divided between the first dose and second dose.

“The 63,000 that’s first doses. That’s the first dose, we get 63,000, give or take, every week, first doses. There’s also an allotment from the federal government that is 63,000 doses every week… that are allotted for the second dose and so total allotment is about 126,000 doses total, but you order them separately. That’s how the system is set up, to ensures that people get the second dose,” Taylor said.

DHEC’s Immunization Director Stephen White added that providers can rely on the fact that they will get those second doses as long as they have ordered it and DHEC has approved of the second doses for that location.

It was brought up that Doctors Care locations were telling people that they could not guarantee a second shot and therefore were not booking second appointments. But Taylor said that DHEC received word about that and the agency has reached out to Doctors Care and that issue has been fixed.

Another concern brought up by some lawmakers was making vaccine appointments available for those in rural communities.

Newton said that when people look at the vaccine locator map on DHEC’s website, there are a lot of red dots in rural areas, which means there are no providers with vaccines or booking appointments.

He said he’s hoping DHEC will start looking at ways to make sure vaccines are going to places like CVS and Walgreens in those areas.

“We’ve left those large segments of the population in rural South Carolina without help and without hope quite frankly, and so I’m hoping that’s an issue that’s taken under. I’m greatly concerned that our network of providers right now that are being utilized leaves out places in South Carolina that don’t have a hospital,” Newton said.

DHEC leaders assured lawmakers that they’re working to get more vaccines to the area. A lot of it has to do with the supply that is being sent to the state. But Moderna vaccines are starting to become more available to pharmacies.

They added that federally qualified health centers that are located in rural areas started receiving vaccine doses this week. DHEC is also working on mobile vaccine clinics that can go to rural areas.

At the end of the four hours, Newton said that more discussion will be made with the committee on the rollout. He also asked DHEC leaders to write up what they need from legislators in order to help with the vaccine distribution process.

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