DHEC working to find solutions to get more vaccines into arms amid criticism

SOUTH CAROLINA — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control will meet Wednesday to try and come up with solutions to get more shots into people’s arms.

This comes days after defending itself against accusations about how the agency has managed the state’s vaccine rollout.

Democrat State Sen. Mike Fanning has been outspoken about the agency’s progress on delivering the vaccine, especially how it’s been prioritized.

“South Carolina has been the wild, wild west. We had no plan from the get go,” Sen. Fanning said.

Part of the issue facing DHEC was the resignation of its last director, nine months ago, as COVID cases started to soar, post Memorial Day. The resignation left the agency without a leader during the biggest health crisis the state has faced.

“We are the only state in America that has not had a department of health director for the entire length of the pandemic. That is completely inexcusable,” Fanning said.

South Carolina lawmakers just approved Dr. Edward Simmer as the new DHEC Director on Feb. 4.

As of Monday, the department said the state has received more than 970,000 doses total of both vaccines, but has only given out 65,000 of them-- that’s only 67% utilization of the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also ranks the state last in the number of doses received, showing more than 17,300 doses per 100,000 people.

However, DHEC told Channel 9 Monday that those numbers are misleading because of how the state is using the Moderna vaccine.

The agency sent Channel 9 the following statement:

“South Carolina is actually fifth in the nation for the third week in a row still as far as “percentage of distributed vaccines administered.” you may have seen that the CDC has South Carolina low-ranked in its metric of “doses delivered per 100,000” but the reason South Carolina looks comparatively lower to other states in that metric is because South Carolina was one of a few states that allocated a lump sum of Moderna doses to our state’s federal LTC program. The majority of other states chose to support their LTC vaccination efforts on a weekly basis, pulling from their weekly allotments.

Because long-term care facility residents and staff have been devastated nationally throughout this pandemic, South Carolina took immediate action to guarantee every long-term care facility resident and staff in the state would have access to vaccine doses, without having to worry about supporting these efforts by pulling from weekly allotments. South Carolina dedicated the full amount of doses needed up-front, sort of in a savings bank, for Walgreens and CVS to draw from as they vaccinate our long-term care facility residents and staff. Those roughly 120,000 doses in the state’s LTC savings bank haven’t physically entered the state yet and therefore aren’t reflected in this “doses delivered” metric.

That’s why the “percentage of distributed vaccines administered” is a more accurate data point for comparison across states.”

DHEC said, including the Moderna doses, the state has already administered 78% of all its shots -- a virtual tie with North Carolina. That ranks the state at 17th in percentage of vaccine utilized.

According to DHEC, nearly 40,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be redistributed from long term care facilities to those 65 and over in Phase 1A now that all facilities in the state have been offered the shot.

Lawmakers are debating multiple issues related to the vaccine. In one meeting, lawmakers focused on the difficulties providers are facing obtaining doses and other necessary medical equipment to administer the shots.

Last week, providers were informed that their typical Monday shipments would no longer show up on a routine schedule. Instead, they could show up any time Monday or in the days that follow. This could cause thousands of appointments to be delayed or canceled.

Supplies remain a key issue as well.

DHEC’s meeting will get underway at noon in Columbia.