More people are getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and state officials have set up a platform for those eligible to find out how to schedule their appointment to get it.
People can visit scdhec.gov/vaxlocator to see a map of vaccine providers. Clicking on a location will show whether the site accepting appointments, and the phone number to call to schedule one. People who prefer to call can dial 1-855-472-3432 to reach DHEC’s Care Line, which can provide information on nearby locations making appointments.
Self Regional Medical Center has also set up a phone line, open from 9 a.m.-noon Thursdays at 864-725-3555 for eligible people to set up an appointment to receive the vaccine.
Currently, South Carolina is still in phase 1a of vaccine distribution. Only certain people are eligible to receive the vaccine at this point. Residents and staff at long-term care facilities have received their doses, and hospitals are able to offer it to admitted patients age 65 and older. Health care workers are eligible, as are people age 70 and older and medical first responders.
The greatest challenge the state faces in distributing the vaccine to the people eligible in phase 1a is supply. Dr. Jane Kelly, assistant state epidemiologist, said in a Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday that initially there were about 350,000 people identified in phase 1a.
After adding people age 70 and older, that number rose by about 200,000. If all people age 65 and older were added, it could add at least another 250,000 to the total, all while South Carolina receives only about 60,000 doses of vaccine a week.
“The flow of vaccines is a trickle right now into our state from the federal government,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s interim director of public health.
These numbers are subject to change, Kelly said, but right now state officials expect to receive the same flow of vaccine doses throughout January. As of Tuesday, South Carolina had received 233,600 doses and administered 114,970 of them.
As people rush to set up appointments to receive their doses, the crush of calls has created problems on the state end. Call volume exceeded the state’s capacity initially, but Traxler said DHEC has doubled the number of people working at their call center and are making changes to fast-track calls to the care line.
Still, she said people should expect wait times for now when they call the care line.
The vaccine advisory committee, made up of professionals in various fields throughout the state, aims to develop an ethical, equitable and evidence-based framework for how, when and to whom the vaccine should be distributed to. The goal is to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible while managing a limited supply. That means prioritizing people at highest risk of exposure and serious illness, to reduce the risk of people dying or getting seriously ill.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the committee discussed plans for future phases, including discussions over what groups of people might be prioritized based on risk for exposure.
“We’re having to make decisions that we just don’t want to have to make,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell. “We wish that the supply of the vaccine was more adequate.”
She showed the committee some data regarding scheduled appointments for vaccinations. As of Wednesday, 119,105 people had made appointments to get vaccinated, while 23,992 of them canceled their appointments for some reason and 51,837 appointments had been completed.
Bell said DHEC tracks canceled appointments, along with the reasons for cancelations. The average appointment time, she said, had lowered since previous reporting to about 8.5 minutes.
DHEC also tracks demographic data using the vaccine Administration Management System. Data she shared during the meeting showed of the people who had been vaccinated, so far more than 60% of them were women, and more than 70% of recipients were white. Bell said DHEC is looking at this data as vaccine availability expands and reaches a broader population to ensure equitable distribution among the people at highest risk.