South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster gave details on the upcoming second phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, saying some of the problems seen in the first phase were simply bumps in the road and officials are working to alleviate them.
Phase 1b — made up of people 55 and older, teachers, people with conditions that make them susceptible to severe COVID-19, frontline workers with increased risk, among others — is set to begin March 8, the governor said Tuesday.
McMaster visited a mass vaccination event at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center Tuesday, where 5,000 people are expected to be vaccinated over two days this week. People in Phase 1a were given the Moderna vaccine at the event, which was put on by McLeod Health and the City of Myrtle Beach.
Phase 1a includes healthcare workers, “mission-critical” state and local government workers, long-term care facility residents and employees and people aged 65 and over.
The McLeod event was running smoothly, organizers said. Dr. Michael Weeks, chief medical officer at McLeod said vaccinating people by the thousands was a reminder of how long the pandemic has gone on and that a solution is on the horizon.
“It’s hard to look back certain times, to think of the lives lost,” he said. “But it’s a wonderful feeling to be here today. It’s a very good optimistic time. I can’t say we’re at the end of the tunnel, but there’s some light now.”
Government and health officials gear up for Phase 1b
Following several reports of ineligible people receiving the vaccine during Phase 1a, McMaster said the state’s system was based on “common sense, the facts, the science” to ensure issues with the vaccine distribution are minimal.
“If you’re not eligible, you’re not eligible,” he said while addressing reporters. “What we had done is concentrate on building a good system so that when we have plenty of vaccine, we’ll have a system that can get it out.”
Conway Medical Center will begin accepting appointment requests for people in Phase 1b beginning Monday, and McLeod has another mass vaccination event at Darlington Raceway Friday, where Phase 1b individuals can be vaccinated.
The eligibility expansion comes as South Carolina receives its first allotment of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization Saturday.
Third provider will mostly go to pharmacies
The latest announcement comes as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine joins Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to become the third vaccine cleared for emergency use in the United States. South Carolina is set to receive more than 40,000 doses this week of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose to be effective.
McMaster said most of the Johnson & Johnson supply will be allocated toward pharmacies beginning this weekend.
“They’re looking forward to being open for vaccines Friday and Saturday, at least by next week,” he said. “Most of them are prepared.”
Ensuring vaccine access in all communities
Phase 1B also includes farm workers and people who are staying in homeless shelters, raising questions about how to ensure access for communities that may be hard to reach. Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune and North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley both emphasized the importance of transportation. Coast RTA provided some transportation to the McLeod event Tuesday, and Bethune said they’ll continue to do that.
“We all should understand that there are rural areas that are hard to reach,” Hatley said. “Are we gonna take the vaccine to them or are we going to work with Coast RTA to bus these people to a clinic and back?”
For McLeod’s mass vaccination event at the convention center, Bethune said the city’s neighborhood services department was involved in disseminating information about the event in areas and communities that especially need transportation or help registering for an appointment.