I have been receiving many questions about the Covid-19 vaccine availability and plans for rollout in South Carolina. We have gathered important information here from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) along with other agencies. There is a lot of information, but I hope you find it helpful.
Please remember this is a constantly changing situation and regular updates, along with the complete DHEC plan, are being posted here. You can also reference this FAQ page if you need more information.
I continue to be inspired by the way our community is supporting one another during this difficult time. We are all in this together, and, together, we will slow the spread of this virus.
VACCINE AVAILABILITY IN SC (as of December 21st)
Last week, our state received 42,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. South Carolina is expected to receive between 200,000 and 300,000 doses by the end of the year (those amounts are subject to change). Tomorrow, we will get additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but we won’t know the exact number until the shipment is received.
The FDA has now approved the Moderna vaccine, and we expect to receive doses of it in the next few days. State officials have dedicated 104,000 Moderna vaccines to nursing homes by the end of the year. South Carolina opted into the federal program for the storage and administration of the vaccine in nursing homes. The federal government will cover the cost provided the State allocates at least 50% of the Moderna vaccine to nursing homes.
Last week, approximately 7,000 frontline healthcare workers received their first shot of the vaccination. The vaccine requires two shots. They must be 21 days apart for Pfizer and 28 days apart for Moderna. The vaccines cannot be mixed, meaning you will need two doses of the same vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored in sub-zero freezers. The Moderna vaccine only requires regular freezer storage, so it is better suited for rural hospitals and smaller providers.
Many experts project that once 50% of the population is immunized we should start to see a slowdown in community spread. Likewise, once 75 to 85% of the population is immunized, ‘herd’ immunity kicks in. Obviously, it’s clear it will be many months before we reach 50% vaccination in South Carolina. Greater supplies of both vaccines will be available beginning in late March or early April.
WHO WILL GET THE VACCINE FIRST?
South Carolina adopted the CDC guidelines for how states should prioritize vaccine distribution. The South Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Plan includes three phases. In Phase 1, vaccine supply will be limited, and efforts will be focused on rapidly reaching targeted populations, including healthcare personnel, people at high risk, and critical infrastructure workers. The population has been segmented based on priority in this order:
- 1a: Healthcare workers specifically dealing with COVID and residents/staff of long-term care facilities.
- 1b: Adults with at least two chronic conditions that put them at severe risk, and front-line workers at high risk of exposure.
- 2: Adults over 65, adults under 65 with at least one chronic condition, and front-line workers.
- 3: College students, K-12 students (when a vaccine is approved for children under 16, which hasn’t happened yet), and essential workers at lower risk of exposure.
- 4: Everyone else who wants a vaccine.
The most recent estimate is that we may reach group 1b by mid-January if we continue to receive the vaccine at the rate we expect. 1b is a vastly larger pool of individuals than 1a, so unless we start receiving the vaccine more quickly it will likely take much longer to get through 1b.
DHEC will notify the public when the vaccine is available to them through news releases, website and social media updates and other forms of outreach to ensure you know when it’s your time to receive the vaccine. Health care providers will also notify their patients.
Experts stress that the big variable is how quickly we get more doses of both vaccines. They believe it could be many months before we’ve immunized enough people for it to slow community spread. Experts say it is largely up to us to continue to socially distance, avoid large gatherings, and use a face mask when appropriate.
NEW COVID RELIEF BILL
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on the $900 billion Covid Relief Bill that would establish temporary $300 per week supplemental unemployment benefits and $600 direct stimulus payments to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, healthcare providers, and renters facing eviction. Once the bill is finalized, details will be forthcoming on the date and method of distribution of these payments.