‘We have been completely overlooked’: SC facing backlash over vaccine rollout plan

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Only days after the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced it will dole out the COVID-19 vaccine to counties based on population alone, there is now push back from many advocacy groups that want the most vulnerable populations made a higher priority.

Channel 9 South Carolina reporter Greg Suskin has been following these developments closely, first covering this story last week when the SCDHEC decided the fastest way to get shots into arms was by giving out vaccine doses by population -- so the larger counties get more.

But on Monday, the state’s AARP and those who help people with disabilities, groups that focus on poverty, education, access to health care, and other issues, said the state’s most at-risk population is being ignored.

They want the SCDHEC to consider all those factors when it comes to where the COVID-19 vaccine is sent.

One advocate, Kimberly Tissot with AbleSC, gave the state a failing grade so far in this vaccine rollout.

“I’d give the state an ‘F’. Especially within the population I represent -- people with disabilities,” Tissot told Channel 9. “We have been completely disregarded and overlooked as if our lives don’t matter, aren’t worth saving.”

The state’s AARP chapter said DHEC using population as the only factor to determine where vaccine supplies are shipped is unfair.

“It doesn’t have to be either/or,” said Teresa Arnold with AARP. “We can still do a better job, yet target those who are most vulnerable.”

Some say too much of the vaccine is going to hospitals in large cities. South Carolina has eight counties without any hospitals.

“Hospitals and health systems can’t necessarily be considered the central point of distribution to the public,” said Hank Povinelli. “Many communities have no access to hospital systems, no transportation to hospital facilities.”

Povinelli is a veteran and a cancer patient from Lancaster. He told Channel 9 his experience when trying to make a vaccination appointment.

“I tried to get a vaccine appointment the first day that the website opened up, and my vaccine appointment isn’t’ until the middle of February,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, the SCDHEC responded to the concerns about vulnerable populations by pointing to the small number of doses coming to the state, and efforts to vaccinate as many as they can as fast as they can.

“The difficulty, as always, is the very limited supply of vaccines we have right now,” said Dr. Michale Kacka with SCDHEC. “We don’t have enough vaccine for everyone who is in Phase 1A.”

Soon, it may be out of the state’s hands. A bill working its way through the state House would require a more regional approach to vaccine distribution -- and for the most vulnerable to be considered as a higher priority.