By Mindy Lucas
South Carolina’s top health officials say they are taking a “deeper dive” into the state’s data to see why the state’s overall vaccination rate has slowed and appointments are going unfilled.
The slowdown follows a nationwide trend as health officials across the county work to determine what’s behind the drop in numbers – whether it’s “vaccine hesitancy” or a reluctance to get the shots or whether it’s a normal dip in numbers as supplies of the vaccine become more plentiful.
“We’re doing everything we can to reverse that trend and get more people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, Public Health Director for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) on a state wide teleconference call held with members of the media on Friday, April 23.
As part of that effort the agency is partnering with faith groups, local businesses and other entities to reach all areas and populations of South Carolina, Dr. Traxler said.
“And we’re still encouraging everyone to go and get vaccinated, if they haven’t done so already,” she said.
The recent pause of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vac
cine may have also had a cooling effect on whether people were inclined to get vaccinated, officials said.
Regulators paused the vaccine after cases of an extremely rare blood clotting disorder were found in six women between the ages of 18 and 49 who had gotten the shot.
The use of the vaccine has since been reinstated. In a joint statement made on Friday, the CDC and FDA said they were lifting the pause “after determining the known and potential benefits of the vaccine outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine.”
Health officials also said they were seeing an increase in supply of vaccine compared to demand.
“We knew from early on when we were seeing the opposite that we would see this,” Traxler said. “We are likely seeing it now, but that is really all what makes it even more important for everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated but is eligible to go and get vaccinated as soon as they can.”
Only 29.6 percent of the state’s population had completed the vaccination process of press time on Tuesday.
The slow down in vaccinations is concerning, health officials said, given that more people need to be vaccinated before herd immunity can be reached.
“Herd immunity is the only way to beat this virus,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, Public Health Director for DHEC. “We still have a ways to go before that happens.”
In terms of the “positive side of vaccinations” DHEC officials said residents should keep in mind the benefits of getting vaccinated.
“When you’ve been vaccinated, and you are getting together with other vaccinated people – for example if you want to go over to a friend’s place and both of you have been vaccinated – then you don’t need to worry as much about masking and social distancing,” Traxler said. “So there are benefits and there is guidance from the CDC on some of the preventative measures that can begin to be relaxed especially when you are around other people who have been vaccinated.”
As of Friday, South Carolina has 326 “breakthrough” cases, or cases where people who were vaccinated still became sick from COVID-19.
DHEC officials said while they were tracking those cases, they were still very low compared to the number of people who have been vaccinated.
It’s also important to remember that with those cases the infection might be less severe, Dr. Traxler noted. Vaccines not only work to prevent disease but can prevent people from getting really sick in particular, she added.
“So we’re still seeing very low percentages of people who have been vaccinated …who have breakthrough cases, and they are very likely having less symptoms and less serious cases,” she said.
For more information or to find a vaccination site in your area, visit https://vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov.