Demand is dropping.
When COVID-19 vaccines became available for anyone older than 16, there was an initial rush of people seeking shots. Now state and local health officials are concerned available appointments will go unfilled.
South Carolina opened eligibility for the vaccine last week, and Self Regional Healthcare CEO and President Jim Pfeiffer said there was an immediate uptick in attention from the public. That’s already starting to slacken, he said.
“In reality, right now we have same-day appointments available — you can call our number and get an appointment either the same day or the next day,” he said. “Everybody’s clambering to get back to normal, everyone is, and the fastest way to get back to normal is by everybody getting it. It’s as simple as that.”
To find out where you can get a vaccine, visit the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s online vaccine provider map at vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov or call 866-365-8110. To sign up for a vaccine at Self Regional Medical Center, fill out a vaccine request form at selfregional.org/covid-vaccine-request-form or call 864-725-3555 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
To sign up for a vaccine at Abbeville Area Medical Center, email aahcvax@AbbevilleAreaMC.com, or call the appointment request line at 864-366-1647.
Dr. Brannon Traxler, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s interim director of public health, said it’s a trend state officials have seen, too. Appointment slots are going unfilled, whether it’s because of vaccine hesitancy or people waiting to get the Johnson & Johnson shot.
“We know some people are on the fence about getting the vaccine, especially among minority groups and young adults,” she said. “These vaccines not only are safe, but they can save your life.”
She said people shouldn’t wait to get the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as supplies of it are still limited and the Pfizer and Moderna two-shot vaccines are also effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Pfeiffer said there’s work to be done in getting young people to get vaccinated, and though he couldn’t say for certain, he said it might be because younger people expect to have mild to moderate symptoms and aren’t at a high risk of serious illness.
“What they fail to realize is that every time somebody gets the virus, that virus replicates millions, perhaps billions of times in your body,” he said. “Every time it replicates, there’s a chance that it will mutate.”
Mutations are how new variants of COVID-19 are formed, and Pfeiffer said in some ways this is a race to get enough people vaccinated before a mutation occurs that creates a strain resistant to current vaccines.
“We certainly need to think through some strategies on how to get younger people vaccinated,” said Dr. Matt Logan, Self’s chief medical officer.
Pfeiffer said he’s talked with the presidents of Lander University, Piedmont Technical College and Presbyterian College about partnering to promote vaccination among students. In the hospital, doctors are seeing a younger population of patients end up admitted with COVID-19.
For a while, Self was seeing four to five COVID-19 patients being treated in the hospital a day. This week it reached as high as 15, and on Wednesday there were 12 people in the hospital receiving treatment — ranging in age from about 30 to 50, Logan said.
“We’re starting to see an increase that we were afraid of,” he said.
This could lead to another surge, and state officials shared concerns Wednesday about case trends. While in highly vaccinated populations like long-term care facilities DHEC is no longer seeing clusters of COVID-19 cases, Traxler said the virus is still widespread in communities throughout the state.
“It’s our actions now that determine whether we continue to drive these numbers down or we see an increase,” she said.
Pfeiffer has repeated the same message for weeks — it’s not time to relax and return to normal. Precautionary measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and practicing social distancing are essential in driving case numbers down, alongside vaccinations.
“People are just letting their guards down and they’re treating it like we’ve won the war or crossed the goal line, but we haven’t,” he said.