SC health leaders could change how vaccine is distributed

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine soared in South Carolina after people over 70 years old were included in the first phase to receive it. That has caused a tidal wave of appointments being made and not enough vaccines to give out. Now the state is looking at changing where shipments are sent.

Leaders at a Department of Health and Environmental Control board meeting Tuesday discussed either shipping the vaccine to counties based on population alone, or looking at factors like poverty, education, housing, language barriers and unemployment. They talked about using that information to decide how many doses each county gets.

[Here’s everything you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina]

“Supply of this vaccine was insufficient compared to need and demand,” said Marshall Taylor, interim director at DHEC.

The demand has increased four times in the last two weeks. As of Tuesday, the state has vaccinated about 277,000 people, which includes health care workers, nursing home residents and some of the 70-plus population. However, there are about 700,000 people in the state who are more than 70 years old, which makes nearly 1 million in phase 1A. The state’s weekly supply of vaccine hasn’t changed, which is at about 64,000 doses per week.

The vaccines are from Pfizer and Moderna.

State leaders don’t know when the supply will ramp up, so they’re asking if it’s being given fairly and equitably to those most in need. They’re concerned about rural counties where people must travel to larger cities to get the vaccine. So, leaders are exploring two models that would change the way it’s distributed in the state.

If the vaccine is shipped to all 46 counties by population alone, here’s what our local counties would receive every week:

  • York: 3,073
  • Chester: 362
  • Lancaster: 1,069
  • Chesterfield: 513

That distribution of the vaccine is assuming a steady 64,000 doses make it to the state weekly.

However, if it’s distributed based on socioeconomics, York County will get far fewer doses, while Chester and Chesterfield will get much more:

  • York: 2,463
  • Chester: 588
  • Lancaster: 1,086
  • Chesterfield: 732

DHEC’s Dr. Brannon Traxler talked about which model gets shots into arms quicker.

“When you’re trying to get the most vaccine into arms as they can, the way to do that is per capita,” she said.

For now, DHEC is looking to send the vaccine to counties based on population, because the infection rate is much higher in larger cities. In fact, Greenville and Charleston lead the state in infection rates per population.

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However, they’re working with pharmacies, churches and community groups in small counties to help people get appointments and find transportation to go get the shot. Several board members were concerned and said that’s not enough to reach everyone who’s most vulnerable to the virus.

They raised issues about a lack of internet access to make appointments and said it’s likely that many people have no idea how they can sign up for the shot.

DHEC also is working to expand advertising on TV, radio, newspapers and posters in some communities to reach as many people as possible.