South Carolina Vaccine Relief Bill Headed To McMaster's Desk
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina lawmakers agreed Tuesday to spend up to $208 million to bolster coronavirus vaccination efforts across the state.
The House approved a plan to put the money toward the costs of administering vaccines and testing, personal protective equipment and other expenses associated with the vaccine rollout.
The relief proposal would also establish a vaccine allocation plan statewide, directing the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to distribute vaccine supplies across the state's four regions. Those allocations would be on a per-capita basis, with consideration for factors including age and poverty.
Gov. Henry McMaster intends to sign the bill, according to a spokesman from the governor's office.
The bill would send $63 million to the Department of Health and Environmental Control and $45 million to the Medical University of South Carolina. Another $100 million would be placed in a reserve account to help hospitals and other vaccine providers offset costs.
An earlier version of the proposal passed by the House had required the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to establish advisory panels for each region. The Senate removed that mandate when senators passed their version of the bill, with some arguing that the committees would only create more bureaucracy to bog down the vaccine rollout.
There was “no time to bicker” with the Senate Tuesday, said House Ways and Means Chair Murrell Smith. He noted that new DHEC Director Edward Simmer had promised to establish the regional committees even without a new law.
Lawmakers are also considering other measures to improve or otherwise alter the state's vaccine plan, including a hotly debated proposal to vaccinate teachers even though the state is still short on vaccine supplies for seniors.
Earlier Tuesday, a House committee heard testimony from Simmer and hospital executives, who discussed current problems with the state's vaccine rollout. Hospital officials said they needed more certainty about how much vaccine they were receiving each week and on what days they would get it.
And vaccine shipments are once again delayed following wintry weather that has impacted shipping hubs in Memphis, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky, the health department announced Tuesday.
“We’ve got doses hung up in airports right now," Simmer told lawmakers.
The state has vaccinated about half a million people so far, or roughly 10% of the population. The state is still in Phase 1A of its vaccine plan, which includes an estimated 1.3 million people.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
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.