COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina is now letting people 65 and older receive the coronavirus vaccine, the state health department announced Wednesday.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control said South Carolina residents meeting the age requirement, regardless of health status or preexisting conditions, can schedule appointments starting Monday. About four out of every five COVID-19 deaths in the state have been among people 65 and older, the agency said in a statement.
The tweak to the state’s vaccine plan will add about 309,000 people between the ages of 65 and 69 to the eligible population pool, as the health agency made shots available to those 70 and up in mid-January. The state is currently still in Phase 1a of its vaccine plan, which includes health care workers, seniors and long-term care facility residents and staff.
Previously, South Carolina’s guidelines would have placed 65- through 69-year-olds to phase 1C of its vaccine plan, behind an estimated 570,000 essential frontline workers. That led to some frustration by residents who pointed out that many other states, including neighboring North Carolina and Georgia, had already started vaccinating people 65 and up.
As of mid-day Wednesday, South Carolina had received 777,250 vaccine doses and given 439,888 shots, with another 382,695 appointments scheduled. The health department has said it will see a modest increase in its upcoming vaccine allocations, getting an extra 10,000 Moderna doses from the federal government weekly.
With the state adding more people to its vaccine eligibility lists, pressure is mounting on the health agency to start inoculating teachers as lawmakers push for schools to reopen for in-person learning five days a week.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey on Wednesday called for DHEC to bump teachers and school support staff to the top of the line and finish vaccinating them within 30 days. “Enough screwing around,” he tweeted.
But health officials have urged the general public to be patient until the state’s vaccine supply increases.
“We have a moral and ethical duty to first vaccinate the South Carolinians who are at the highest risk of dying from the virus,” said Gov. Henry McMaster in a statement. “At this time, placing a younger person between a senior citizen and what could be their lifesaving shot would be unconscionable and irresponsible. Today’s action will save lives and allow our teachers to be vaccinated next.”
The Palmetto State Teachers Association said Wednesday that it will continue to push for teachers to get priority access to the vaccine. The teacher group says teachers must get vaccinated soon because already low staffing levels in schools are being exacerbated by the pandemic, with staffers out on medical leave and quarantine. That makes it hard for schools to maintain in-person learning options, the group said.
The state is still seeing high levels of the virus, with more than 1,800 deaths reported in the last month. But the state’s daily percent positive rate for tests has dropped significantly, from 20.1% reported Monday to 8.8% on Tuesday.
That’s because DHEC has changed the way it calculates that figure to better compare it to the percent positivity rates of other state and federal agencies, the department said Tuesday. The lower number does not mean the level of spread in the community has decreased, the agency emphasized.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and 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.
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