COVID-19 vaccine soon open to all in SC aged 70 and over


More South Carolinians will soon be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Any resident who is 70 years or older, regardless of health status, can schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine shot beginning Wednesday, Jan. 13. Gov. Henry McMaster and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control announced Monday the expansion is open to the entire age group, meaning they do not have to have a preexisting condition to be eligible.

State officials said they are confident enough people in phase 1a who want to be vaccinated have either received their shots or have been scheduled to do so.

There are 146,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the state, as of Monday, with 82,266 doses having been administered (a 56% utilization rate), and 94,926 appointments are scheduled by phase 1a individuals to receive their vaccine during the next several weeks.

“We know that those 70 and older are at the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19,” McMaster said.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s interim public health director, said the mortality rate from COVID-19 for those 70 and older in South Carolina is about 655 deaths per 100,000 people. In comparison, for those under the age of 70, there are only about 37 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people.

“This is a staggering comparison and illustrates why vaccinating this population next is critically important in our mission to save lives,” Traxler said.

More than 67% of the COVID-19-related deaths in the Palmetto State have been among those 70 and older, according to DHEC data.

The move to what the state is calling phase 1b-1 comes as the virus continues to surge.

DHEC announced 2,644 new confirmed cases of the virus on Monday and 14 deaths, bringing the total number of known infections statewide to more than 326,500. More than 5,300 South Carolinians have died. DHEC attributed Monday's update, considered a low daily case count compared to recent trends, to an internal systems issue.

Traxler said vaccines are currently limited in the state, “like it is in all states,” but that shipments are arriving weekly from the federal government.

Speeding up the distribution of vaccines has been a priority for public health departments nationwide as they are struggling to get shots in arms fast enough. In South Carolina, McMaster put a deadline of Jan. 15 for phase 1a individuals – hospital staff and health care workers who come in direct contact with or are potentially exposed to COVID-19 – to schedule appointments. Last week, the state expanded phase 1a eligibility to hospital patients over 65 years old.

The federal government is allocating vaccines made by Moderna to staff and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. These shots are being administered at the facilities by CVS and Walgreens pharmacists. According to DHEC, 86,400 Moderna doses have been delivered in South Carolina, and 11,076 first doses and 6,016 second doses have been administered.

With this next step, state officials are hoping to reach those remaining in the estimated 627,800 South Carolinians aged 70 or older who have not already been eligible.

DHEC says it is increasing the number of mobile clinics and working with other state agencies to establish vaccine provider locations to reach rural and underserved communities that may not have nearby locations offering the vaccine.

What you need to know about the vaccine and phase 1b-1

  • Beginning Wednesday, Jan. 13, any South Carolina resident who is at least 70 years old can schedule an appointment to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine;
  • Vaccine can only be administered by appointment – you can’t walk into a health care facility and ask for a shot;
  • You will be asked to provide a driver’s license or other form of ID at the appointment that confirms your age and, therefore, eligibility to receive the vaccine;
  • Individuals eligible to receive the vaccine can schedule an appointment using this online resource (DHEC link is currently broken and will be updated when it is fixed) or by calling the DHEC Care Line at 1-855-472-3432, which currently includes several major hospitals, seven DHEC sites, a DHEC mobile clinic and 12 Doctors Care locations. An additional 50 locations will be added to this list and available to provide the vaccine by the beginning of next week;
  • As long-term care facility residents and staff continue to receive their Moderna vaccine through the federal Long-Term Care program, the state can soon redirect some Moderna vaccine from that program and make it available to others;
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two shots separated by 21 days. The Moderna vaccine requires two shots separated by 28 days. You need to receive both shots of the same product; vaccine brands are not interchangeable;
  • After receiving both shots, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 94-95% effective in preventing disease; and
  • You will receive a vaccine card after receiving the first shot, reminding you when your second shot is due. Most providers are also issuing second-dose appointment reminders to patients by way of phone calls, emails or text messages.