Thanks to Operation Warp Speed, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced today (Dec.14) that South Carolina has received its first COVID-19 vaccine. Today through Wednesday, the state is receiving its first allocation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine; nearly 43,000 doses are anticipated by Wednesday. Several health care facilities in the state are receiving allocations directly from the federal government and may begin vaccinating their front-line medical workers as soon as today.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 11. However, until enough COVID-19 vaccine is available for everyone, it’s critical for South Carolina to effectively and equitably distribute the initial limited supply of vaccine. The state is expected to receive between 200,000 to 300,000 doses by the end of the year.
“Our top priority is to save lives,” said Dr. Linda Bell, State Epidemiologist. “However, as the vaccine first becomes available, the number of doses will be limited in South Carolina, like in all states. We ask everyone to please be patient, wait your turn and listen to our public health officials. Doing this will allow public health officials to ensure the most vulnerable among us and those who keep us alive are vaccinated first.”
Upon receipt of this first allocation of vaccine, South Carolina will be in Phase 1a of the state’s interim COVID-19 vaccine plan. The state will be vaccinating those in Phase 1a as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the South Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee, which is comprised of individuals representing the state’s various communities.
The overarching goal of Phase 1a is preventing deaths. Front-line medical workers and long-term care facility residents and staff are among those prioritized for Phase 1a vaccine distribution.
“To reach our collective goal and stop the spread of COVID-19, we must attend to our frontline healthcare workers first,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC interim Public Health Director. “Ensuring those responsible for treating our COVID-19 patients are the first to be vaccinated is one way of protecting our frontline healthcare workers so that they can continue to protect all of us.”
This includes workers in hospitals and other healthcare facilities who are most critical to saving lives and most at risk of exposure to COVID-19, such as nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, laboratory and radiology technicians, and other medical professionals treating COVID-19 patients. Other mission-critical workers in Phase 1a include:
First responders who provide emergency medical response,
Medical staff in correctional facilities, dialysis and infusion centers, and outpatient settings frequently treating COVID-19 patients,
Home health and hospice workers,
Autopsy staff and coroners, and
Other healthcare professionals at high risk of frequent exposure to COVID-19.
This limited supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be safely and securely distributed to 56 sites throughout the state by the end of the week. Individuals eligible for Phase 1a vaccinations should not contact a hospital or healthcare provide; instead, they will be contacted or provided additonal information about getting vaccinated.
This Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will require two shots, spaced 21 days apart. Everyone who receives a vaccine is recorded in a secure database called VAMS (Vaccine Administration Management System). This is a federal database that allows the CDC and state health departments to monitor vaccine administrations. Everyone who receives their first shot will be provided with a paper card that provides what COVID-19 vaccine was received, the date and location it was received, and a reminder when then the second shot is needed.