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WMBF INVESTIGATES: Horry County government issues statement after DHEC halts additional 1st doses to HCFR

Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 11:25 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – Horry County Fire Rescue will not receive additional first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the Department of Health and Environmental Control at this time, according to a letter.

DHEC officials followed up with Horry County officials after WMBF News obtained and reported on an email sent out to all county employees to offer them the chance to receive Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

RELATED COVERAGE:

Horry County Government responds to DHEC inquiry on vaccinating employees outside of Phase 1a

Email states all Horry County Government employees offered access to Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

“At this time, DHEC will not be providing additional first dose vaccine to Horry County Fire/Rescue, but we may schedule time to discuss this with you further once your current supply of vaccine is administered,” the Feb. 23 letter from DHEC stated. “Second doses for those you have already vaccinated, as well as for those Phase 1A individuals you will be vaccinating, should be ordered at the appropriate time through the VAMS inventory request process.”

Officials with DHEC said that as an enrolled provider, Horry County Fire Rescue would have been eligible to order and receive additional vaccine. They added that this is the first time the agency has made the determination to reduce a provider’s allocation.

DHEC’s letter also stated that Horry County may utilize existing vaccine on hand to eligible Phase 1a vaccinations, including first doses.

Only those eligible for vaccination under Phase 1a may be vaccinated with the county’s current supply, according to DHEC.

“As we discussed, law enforcement officers, public safety officers, county administrative staff, or other similar individuals are not Phase 1A eligible, and instead fall to Phase 1B, Phase 1C, or even Phase 2,” DHEC’s letter stated.

State health officials went on to say the county should maintain a callback list of bona fide Phase 1a individuals who may be contacted at the end of a clinic should a vial have additional unused doses, and the vaccine should only be given to out-of-phase persons “as a last resort to avoid waste.”

The full letter can be read below:

Horry County government responded to DHEC’s letter and the media reports concerning the county’s administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The county said that DHEC had approved the county’s vaccination plan before vaccines were distributed and that they have abided by the plan since the beginning. The county went on to state that there has been “mismanagement and miscommunication” in the distribution process that has led to these issues.

Below is Horry County government’s full statement on the issue:

In its efforts to maintain a positive working relationship with SCDHEC as initial vaccination efforts have been ramping up across the state, Horry County Government chose to provide only a limited response to recent reporting concerning Horry County Government’s administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, following weeks of working with SCDHEC to reach an appropriate and amicable joint response, including a call that we requested with their team yesterday, the misinformation being conveyed to the public by media and others has only increased, and thus Horry County feels it is imperative to provide this information directly to our community.

SCDHEC has never denied that they provided guidance to Horry County and approved the County’s vaccination plan, yet the media coverage has insinuated that the County somehow acted inappropriately by providing vaccinations outside of SCDHEC’s priority guidelines. The simple fact is that Horry County has at all times complied with SCDHEC’s guidance, and if SCDHEC was better able to satisfy its current supply challenges, we would not be having this discussion.

Horry County was not the first organization to have a similar program approved by SCDHEC, and other local providers, including medical facilities and municipalities have similarly undertaken action to provide this critical protection to their employees and others. For example, many local hospitals partnered with government organizations to provide vaccines to active members of law enforcement with the approval of SCDHEC—guidance that is now being interpreted by SCDHEC to remove law enforcement members completely from the 1A guidelines. This means these other organizations would also be non-compliant. The 1A guidance on SCDHEC’s website appears to contradict what is included in their latest email to us—this just adds to the continued confusion for all of us.

Those other organizations have not received the same level of scrutiny from SCDHEC or from local media reporting. It is time for SCDHEC to acknowledge the mismanagement and miscommunication early in the distribution process that led to these issues. SCDHEC, including those “senior officials” on our recent call, have known about this for weeks, yet did not stop providing us with doses of vaccines or ask us to change course. We were provided with an initial 3,500 doses, despite not having requested any doses at that point, and those were more than we would need to vaccinate those in the now narrowly construed 1A category—and SCDHEC knew.

We have enough second doses for everyone who received a first dose from us and we will be administering those. We will administer the remaining supply, with new guidance from SCDHEC, to members of our community using the same VAMS software we were already utilizing. Assuming SCDHEC does not change their guidance to us again, we expect to release information to the public about how they can schedule an appointment with us in the near future.

Horry County will adapt to the latest guidance and will continue to forge ahead, together with SCDHEC, to get our community vaccinated, but we will not apologize for doing the right thing for our employees, with the approval of SCDHEC, at a time of crisis for our entire community.

Our community matters to us. Our senior citizens matter to us. Our teachers matter to us. We stand by, ready to assist, with an efficient system for distributing vaccines to our community and we will continue to work together with SCDHEC to achieve our shared ultimate goal of vaccinating everyone in Horry County that wants a COVID-19 vaccine.

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