The demand for the COVID-19 vaccine is strong in South Carolina. Regretfully, the current amount of available vaccine is not meeting the demand.
Not Enough Vaccine
News reports this past weekend pegged South Carolina’s vaccination utilization at only 49 percent. That is misleading. As example, our local hospital, Aiken Regional Medical Center (ARMC), has excelled in its utilization of vaccines. On some days its utilization reaches 97%. ARMC has utilized nearly all the vaccine allocated to it and is prepared to expand vaccinations.
Gov. Henry McMaster praised ARMC during his Aiken visit late last week, saying the hospital has been “at the top of the class since the beginning.”
The statewide vaccination utilization rate posted daily on DHEC’s website can be highly misleading because it is a moving target. As more vaccine arrives and is sent to providers, the utilization percentage decreases because shots-in-the-arm aren’t simultaneously reported. One day statewide utilization is 81%; days later it plummets to 49%, then rebounds. It is an ever-changing and misleading statistic that makes for news headlines.
At this writing, South Carolina has received 543,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. More than 200,000 of the initial Moderna vaccine doses went directly to nursing and elderly care facilities. Meanwhile, a large portion of the initial Pfizer vaccine was allocated to first responders and health care workers. Those vulnerable populations were first in line; now those 70 years and older are receiving the vaccine as it becomes available.
The federal government controls the state’s vaccine supply, which remains steady at an allocation of 63,000 first doses per week.
Last week, Gov. McMaster told me he foresees a significant increase in the amount of vaccine sent to South Carolina by early March. While demand for the vaccine outpaces the supply, the goal is for those who want it to get the COVID vaccine quickly as you would a flu shot.
The General Assembly is working on legislation to expand statewide vaccination capacity through an appropriation of up to $208 million from the State’s reserve fund.
The Aiken legislative delegation is working on expanding vaccine providers. Delegation Chairman, Sen. Tom Young, has been the point person for our legislative delegation efforts to expedite the vaccine roll out in our region and improve the vaccination process.
Young reports that Augusta University Health (“AU Health”) Hospital and University Hospital are each moving forward with their separate plans to vaccinate large numbers of people in Aiken County. Their plans are contingent on vaccine availability. Doctor’s Care has been providing vaccine. Publix, Kroger, and Wal-Mart pharmacies have started to vaccinate, but their supplies are limited. The Aiken County Health Department has also started vaccinations which again is contingent on vaccine supply. Rural Health is ready to start vaccinations and waiting on the vaccine. Family Pharmacy of Aiken vaccinated some people age 70 and over this past week, and they will schedule more when they confirm their vaccine supply. Medical practices are also planning to vaccinate when the Moderna vaccine (easier to store than Pfizer’s) is more readily available.
This means that there should be more providers in our region soon, but all of these providers’ vaccination efforts are contingent on our State’s vaccine supply from the federal government. As additional providers set up and when the vaccine supply is there, there will be more and sooner available appointments for people to be vaccinated.
Two state senators, including Sen. Nikki Setzler, of the Aiken Delegation, have called on the Governor to name a COVID-19 state logistics director. They suggested former Adjutant General Bob Livingston. The position would coordinate the logistics of receipt, distribution, and injection of the COVID-19 vaccine statewide. This would be someone with the authority to coordinate and bring together all those involved.
In my view, this would ensure the COVID vaccine distribution in South Carolina is maximized and delivered as swiftly as possible by bring together the various agencies to solve this complex effort. Gen. Livingston knows how to get the job done and will expedite the vaccine to those who want it.
Signing up to schedule a vaccine appointment has been challenging and sometimes impossible. The federal government’s VAMS system is difficult to navigate and makes unnecessary requirements. For those without an online connection (and that is many in rural Aiken County), connecting for an appointment via phone is daunting.
To solve those problems, DHEC is close to launching a new scheduling system that will make it easier than the current VAMS system for people to search for and schedule appointments. That launch may occur later this week. None too soon.
I’ll keep you posted on developments.
I’m Available and AT YOUR SERVICE
It is my honor to be of service. If you need assistance during these trying times, navigating though the flow of information on COVID-19, navigating state government or have any thoughts or concerns about what the legislature, please do not hesitate to contact me.
In your Service,
South Carolina General Assembly
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