Push to vaccinate more residents suffers setbacks, enjoys small victories

in Coronavirus/Health by

Appointments canceled as vaccine shortages intensify; Publix to begin vaccinations

By Mindy Lucas

The push to inoculate more Lowcountry residents against COVID-19 seemed to take one step back before moving one step forward this week.

In an announcement made on its website on Friday, Jan. 15, Beaufort Memorial Hospital said its officials were informed the hospital would not receive more than 2,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine they were expecting for delivery this week or orders equaling that many in the weeks to come.

As a result, the hospital was forced to cancel more than 6,000 scheduled appointments through March 30, it said. An additional 6,000 requests for appointments will go unscheduled until supplies are available again.

On Jan. 8 and Jan. 11, Beaufort Memorial placed three orders totaling more than 2,000 doses. However, officials were notified on Friday they would only receive 450 doses of the vaccine.

“We understand that the national vaccine supply is somewhat limited; however, the fact that we placed these orders over a week ago and were just notified by the state that they cannot be fulfilled is disappointing,” Beaufort Memorial President and CEO Russell Baxley said. “South Carolina hospitals have been working very hard to follow the state’s guidance to serve the best interests of our communities, but we cannot do it without consistent and reliable supplies.”

The hospital went on to say that all second-dose vaccination appointments would be honored and it would reschedule those who were waiting on their first dose as supplies became available.

The announcement came just days after state health officials and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced it would begin offering the vaccine to those age 70 or older in an effort to “speed things up,” as the governor had said.

Both the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the governor have come under fire recently for the state’s slow response and management of the vaccination process.

In terms of doses distributed to states nationwide, South Carolina ranked dead last with only 6,808 doses per 100,000 residents received from the federal government, according to Centers For Disease Control data last updated on Jan. 15. It also ranked among the lowest to have administered its doses, according to the same set of data.

However, DHEC held an unpublicized mass vaccination event on Friday at the state fairgrounds in Columbia, according to The (Columbia) State newspaper.

The drive-through styled event drew hundreds who waited in their cars for hours for a chance to get the vaccine. Though the event was originally intended for pre-scheduled first responders, some ages 70 and older also received the vaccine without an appointment, the paper reported.

Earlier in the month, Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) sent a letter to Gov. Henry McMaster stating the “continuing lag” in administering the vaccine required “a more aggressive approach.”

He urged McMaster to use his executive authority to make the vaccine more available to the public by using retail pharmacies.

Sen. Davis had scheduled an online meeting with the governor for Tuesday “to ascertain the flow of vaccine to our local hospitals and establish logistics for mass-vax events in Beaufort and Jasper counties,” he said on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Publix announced it would begin offering vaccinations to those who are currently eligible at many of its pharmacies in South Carolina.

“Following South Carolina guidelines, vaccinations can be administered to health care workers, individuals ages 70 and older, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and South Carolina state/local government employees and contractors who are critical to the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations and testing,” the Florida-based grocery store chain announced on its website on Monday, Jan. 18.

Publix pharmacies that will offer the vaccine in the Lowcountry include:

Publix at Lady’s Island, 61 Ladys Island Drive

Bluffton Commons at Belfair, 80 Baylor Drive, Bluffton

Buckwalter Place, 101 Buckwalter Place Blvd., Bluffton

Festival Centre at Indigo Park 45 Pembroke Drive on Hilton Head

The pharmacies will administer the vaccine free of charge while supplies last, and by appointment only.

Those who are eligible can schedule an appointment online at publix.com/covidvaccine. Appointments cannot be made by calling the store or the pharmacy.