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DHEC addresses Horry County government vaccine controversy; values relationship with county

Updated: Feb. 24, 2021 at 7:24 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control addressed its decision to stop sending vaccine allocations to Horry County Fire Rescue.

It comes after WMBF News obtained an email that seemed to indicate that vaccines sent to Horry County Fire Rescue were offered to all county employees, despite their eligibility.

One DHEC leader reiterated during a news briefing on Wednesday that DHEC is asserting its right to withhold vaccine from providers who “knowingly” choose not to follow state guidelines.

This follows a response from Horry County government on Tuesday, where the county said that DHEC had never denied they provided guidance to the county and that DHEC had approved their vaccination plan.

“... the media coverage has insinuated that the County somehow acted inappropriately by providing vaccinations outside of SCDHEC’s priority guidelines,” Horry County’s statement read in part. “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.”

RELATED COVERAGE | Horry County government issues statement after DHEC halts additional 1st doses to HCFR

The county went on to state that there has been “mismanagement and miscommunication” in the distribution process that has led to these issues.

This comes after DHEC told the county they would not be providing additional first doses for the time being.

The department confirmed with WMBF Investigates that this is the first time the agency had made the determination to reduce a vaccine provider’s allocation, a penalty the department could invoke upon a provider “based on any lack of adherence to DHEC’s phase guidelines.”

WMBF Investigates had reached out to DHEC for their response to the county’s statement; instead, DHEC leaders addressed the matter briefly during their opening remarks at media telebriefing.

“We continue to value the relationship we have with Horry County Fire Rescue,” said Nick Davidson, DHEC’s senior deputy for public health. “They’re providing absolutely necessary services under some really challenging conditions across their community, and the same goes really for all of our providers.”

Davidson said the state has to vaccinate carefully and in a phased approach, because of its limited availability. He said it’s critical for all providers to vaccinate alongside DHEC’s guidelines.

“We’re going to continue to reserve the right to limit vaccine allocations if we determine providers are knowingly choosing to not follow state guidelines,” Davison continued. “But we are going to continue to work with Horry County officials just as we have been to move forward in our ongoing mission to save lives across the state.”

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