'Overwhelming majority' of S.C. hospitalizations, deaths are in unvaccinated people


COLUMBIA - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday that he doesn't want the federal government sending people door to door to convince residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, joining a growing number of Republican state politicians opposing the strategy.

McMaster sent a letter to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control's board asking the department to ban state and local health care groups from "the use of the Biden Administration's 'targeted' 'door-to-door' tactics."

"A South Carolinian's decision to get vaccinated is a personal one for them to make and not the government's," McMaster wrote. "Enticing, coercing, intimidating, mandating or pressuring anyone to take the vaccine is a bad policy which will deteriorate the public's trust and confidence in the state's vaccination efforts."

Later Friday, DHEC Director Edward Skinner issued a statement in response to the letter. In it, he said "vaccine outreach efforts have not and will not include unsolicited door-to-door visits. DHEC does offer in-home vaccines through our homebound vaccination program, but only if specifically requested in advance by the person being vaccinated."

About 43% of South Carolinians are vaccinated, placing the state in the bottom half of states ranked by vaccination rate.

In Sumter, nearly 36,000 residents have received at least one vaccine. DHEC data show there are about 89,600 Sumter County residents who are 12 or older.

State leaders in Arizona and Missouri also have pushed back against the federal strategy after President Joe Biden said earlier this week: "Now, we need to go to community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door - literally knocking on doors - to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus."

Federal officials this week defended the door-to-door efforts, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki noting Thursday that the vaccine canvassing is done entirely by volunteers, and the White House thinks it's helped boost vaccine rates in a number of states, including Alabama, Florida and Georgia. She emphasized that the federal government doesn't keep a database of who's been vaccinated.

Jeffrey Zeints, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, also said Thursday that "local trusted messengers" like doctors, faith leaders and community leaders are the best people to promote vaccinations and may go door to door.

"So I would say for those individuals, organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and to the doctors, the faith leaders, the community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated, to save lives and help to end this pandemic," Zeints said.

McMaster's letter comes a day after state public health officials warned that the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians now being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 are those who aren't fully vaccinated.

An analysis of newly reported data in the first two weeks of June by the state health agency found 94% of new cases were in not fully vaccinated individuals. Of cases where the agency could determine vaccine status, most of the 92 people hospitalized and all of the 11 who died of COVID-19 during those two weeks weren't completely vaccinated.

- The Sumter Item's Kayla Green contributed.