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South Carolina
See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

SC Governor: Jan. 15 Deadline For Health Worker COVID-19 Shots

Henry McMaster
South Carolina ETV

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Frustrated with what he said is a slow rollout in South Carolina of COVID-19 vaccines, Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday that hospital and health workers have until Jan. 15 to get a shot or they will have to “move to the back of the line.”

McMaster said he has asked health officials to speak to hospitals and then revise the rules.

Current state rules say 70% of eligible health care workers and nursing home residents need to be vaccinated. When that has been accomplished, the state will start vaccinating people over age 75 and frontline workers such as police officers, prison guards, grocery store workers, teachers and postal employees.

McMaster wants to establish the deadline instead.

“If we need to move the next group up early, we're going to do it,” McMaster said at a news conference.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental control did not immediately comment on the governor's idea, but McMaster said health officials were meeting and planned to send out the new rules later Tuesday.

The pace of vaccinations has angered both the governor and lawmakers.

State Sen. Nikki Seltzler, a Democrat from West Columbia, issued a scathing statement saying that after waiting patiently for 10 months to see a vaccine developed, South Carolinians now need prompt access to it.

“We need decisive action in order to save lives,” Setzler said in a statement.

As of Monday, the state had given out less than half its initial allotment of the Pfizer vaccine to about 43,000 people. Statistics on the Moderna vaccine have not been released.

McMaster said he puts much of the blame on hospitals for the slow rollout because they have been too strict — only giving shots to workers who deal directly with COVID-19 patients instead of to any heath care provider. The governor said hospital leaders have promised to do better.

Adding angst to the slow vaccine rollout is a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. This past week, South Carolina has set state records for new cases. It is seeing more than 3,600 new cases a day when averaged out over seven days, nearly double the new cases from the summer, when the state nearly led the nation. The state topped 5,000 COVID-19 deaths at the beginning of the month.

On Monday, the rate of positive tests was 33.3% — the highest recorded since the outbreak began. Health officials want to get that number below 5%.

McMaster spent several minutes in his news conference insisting he would not order any businesses to close or add any restrictions, even with the high case numbers.

But he did let health officials know that if they did not intervene and change the vaccine rules, he would use his emergency powers.

“If there is something else that needs to be done, I'll do it," the governor said. “I can't change the law, but I'll change a rule.”


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.