South Carolina hospitals can now vaccinate patients 65 and older

South Carolina hospitals can now vaccinate patients 65 and older
FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2021, file photo syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. Taking a new direction to speed release of coronavirus vaccines, President-elect Joe Biden's office said Friday he would end the current practice of holding back vaccine doses to guarantee that people who get their first shot can also get a required second inoculation three weeks later. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) (Jae C. Hong)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — (AP) — Hospitals can now start vaccinating South Carolina patients aged 65 and older against COVID-19 Friday, as the state announced yet another record-high daily count of nearly 5,000 coronavirus cases.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says hospitals can start getting shots into the arms of those patients as long as they don’t currently have COVID-19 and a health care provider approves. The announcement comes the same day the agency reported 4,986 confirmed cases and 28 new deaths.

Top state officials have said the state is not getting shots into arms quickly enough. The state has remained in Phase 1A since mid-December, when it received its first shipments of doses. That meant providers could only vaccinate health care workers and those living and working in long-term care facilities without further approval from the health department.

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Hospital executives also complained to the agency’s board Thursday, citing rules and regulations from state and federal authorities as the reason for the slowdown, The State newspaper reported.

Earlier this week, Gov. Henry McMaster called on DHEC to set a Jan. 15 deadline for frontline health care workers to get scheduled for the vaccine or risk losing their spot in line. Previously, DHEC had said it would move onto the next phase — which includes people aged 75 and older, and frontline essential workers such as firefighters, grocery store employees and postal workers — when 70% of those eligible in the initial phase had been vaccinated.

As of Friday, the agency said about 48% of the state’s 146,500 Pfizer doses had been administered, with some 83,000 appointments scheduled.

A number of initially eligible health care workers are also declining the vaccine for now, state leaders have observed. It’s another reason to make those doses available to others who want them, McMaster said Friday.

The health department has urged residents remain patient as rollout of the vaccine picks up. Still, people trying to cut in line have led one hospital to require those getting vaccinated in the initial phase to prove they are health care workers.

The Medical University of South Carolina says it’s instituting the requirement after some people eligible for the vaccine forwarded scheduling information from the hospital to patients, friends and family members who were not yet eligible. The hospital did not say if any of those ineligible individuals received the vaccine.

The virus has killed more than 5,000 South Carolinians to date, according to health officials.

South Carolina could start Phase 1B of COVID vaccine next week