Hospital patients over 65 can now get COVID-19 vaccine, SC public health department says

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South Carolina’s public health agency updated its vaccine protocol guidance on Friday, saying hospitals should begin to vaccinate admitted patients who are 65 years and older and do not have COVID-19.

“By moving up these patients who are currently admitted in our hospitals, we are ensuring that the most vulnerable among us are being vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, interim public health director for the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Adding this demographic to phase 1a of the state’s vaccine rollout — which still includes frontline health care workers and those who live in and work at nursing homes and long-term care facilities — comes as DHEC and state agencies nationwide are trying to speed up the dissemination of vaccinations after a slow start.

While South Carolina has received 146,500 Pfizer vaccine doses, which includes more than 34,000 that were received this week, according to DHEC, less than half have been shot into arms. More than 62,600 first doses have been administered, and nearly 7,700 have received their second dose.

Traxler said during a media briefing Friday afternoon that the federal government has sent 86,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine to South Carolina, which have all been dedicated to long-term care facilities. CVS and Walgreens have visited 114 facilities statewide to administer those vaccines, of which more than 8,200 have been given since last week.

Traxler said DHEC doesn’t have data on how many people eligible to get the vaccine have turned it down but that hesitancy, in part based on misinformation about side effects, is on their radar.

Earlier this week and in response to statements by Gov. Henry McMaster, the agency set a Jan. 15 deadline for phase 1a health care workers to schedule appointments with their local hospitals. DHEC said 83,844 phase 1a individuals had made appointments as of Friday morning.

According to the state’s guidance, phase 1b will include all people aged 75 and older and other frontline essential workers, such as firefighters, corrections and law enforcement officers, mail service and public transit workers, grocery store workers, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers and the state’s teachers and educational sector.

Phase 1b is projected to become eligible late this winter, with phase 1c projected for early spring and to include all people aged 64-75, adults with high-risk health conditions and other essential workers, including those who work in food service, transportation and logistics, housing construction and finance, information technology, law, energy, public safety, non-frontline health care workers and media.

Depending on availability and rollout, vaccines may be widely available to the general public by this fall.

In the meantime, public health officials continue to urge everyone to take daily steps — wearing a mask, getting tested if feeling ill, avoiding large gatherings and practicing physical distancing — to reduce the spread, which has continued to reach record highs in new cases and deaths nationwide.

The state broke yet another daily record Friday when DHEC announced 4,986 new confirmed cases, more than double that of any single day during the summer.

Friday’s update included 34 more cases in Sumter and 11 each in Clarendon and Lee counties. More than 800 were in Greenville County, which is among the worst metro areas for surging cases in the nation, according to major news outlets.

The state’s recovery estimate continues to worsen, too. On Friday as of data from Jan. 6, of the individuals for whom DHEC has symptom onset data, 88.4% have recovered.

There have now been more than 315,000 confirmed cases in South Carolina, and more than 5,200 have died.

In Sumter, there have been 5,902 confirmed cases and 117 deaths related to COVID-19, while Clarendon County has recorded 1,813 cases and 76 deaths. Lee County has seen 1,197 cases and 42 deaths.

For a more detailed breakdown of the state’s guidance and who is included in which phase, go to https://scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine.