SC House Aims To Rewrite Vaccine Allocation Plan
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina lawmakers are vying to override the Department of Health and Environmental Control's board on an allocation plan meant to equitably distribute the state's limited coronavirus vaccine supply.
The House gave key approval Wednesday to the measure, part of a bill to direct up to $208 million in state surplus funds to bolster the state's vaccine rollout.
The lawmakers' plan would direct the health department, DHEC, to allocate limited vaccine supplies across the state's four regions on a per capita basis, requiring it to take into account factors such as a region's rural and underserved areas, impoverished populations and how many elderly residents it has.
Legislators stepped in after DHEC's governor-appointed board voted tentatively Tuesday to hand out vaccine doses to counties based strictly on population size.
Some lawmakers voiced concern Wednesday that the per capita county model wouldn't adequately address the needs of rural communities.
Demand for the vaccine in the state continues to outpace supply, even as the state says it is getting a 16% bump in the doses it will receive over the next few weeks. Interim Director of Public Health Brannon Traxler said Wednesday that the state will receive 72,600 first doses starting next week, up from the 62,600 first doses it got this week.
Gov. Henry McMaster, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said the state also would try to open up vaccinations to those 65 and older “as soon as we can.”
Currently, vaccinations are open to a population that encompasses nearly a million people in the state, including health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff and people 70 and older. As of Wednesday, the state had received just 622,350 doses of the vaccine.
“Right now, we’ve got a log jam,” Smith said.
That hasn't stopped businesses and individuals from petitioning the state's Vaccine Advisory Committee to be moved higher on the list.
Teacher groups, state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman and some lawmakers have also implored DHEC to put teachers above other essential workers in Phase 1B of the vaccine plan, citing the need to get children back into schools for face-to-face learning.
The groups say schools are facing severe staffing shortages as some teachers take medical leave because they are in high-risk categories for the virus, and others must quarantine because they’ve contracted COVID-19.
The state health department estimates more than half a million South Carolinians will be eligible in Phase 1B, which it projects will begin in “early spring” of this year. The state has about 50,000 certified teachers.
Also Wednesday, Traxler said Wednesday that DHEC had received reports of some providers inoculating people currently ineligible for the vaccine. That bumps people at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19 further back in line, Traxler said.
“Any provider who chooses not to follow the state's vaccine phase guidelines is creating chaos, frustration and confusion,” she said.
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Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.