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SC to open COVID-19 vaccines to more people. Here's what to know about how to get one.

Virus Outbreak Vaccine

This Dec. 2, 2020, photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. File/Johnson & Johnson via AP

Now that the governor has opened up vaccine appointments to the next phase of eligibility in the rollout, millions more people in South Carolina are able to schedule a shot.

Almost a year after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said March 2 he would move the state into the next phase for vaccinations starting March 8.

"We are now in a position to make the majority of South Carolinians eligible for the vaccine," McMaster said.

Here is what you need to know about whether you qualify now and how to get an appointment if you do:

Who is eligible?

Up to this point, those eligible to schedule a vaccine appointment in South Carolina were primarily health care workers, people 65 and older and medical first responders. With the March 2 announcement, many more people qualify, including essential workers, anyone 55 years old and older, and people with certain underlying health conditions. 

In making his announcement, McMaster newly opened eligibility to more than half of the state instead of limiting new appointments to smaller, select groups of people, as initial plans called for. The definitions McMaster shared of who can get a shot were broad, but he did share some concrete guidelines.

The governor laid out the underlying health conditions that would make any adult eligible starting March 8: Obesity, organ transplant, cancer, chronic kidney disease, lung disease, Down syndrome, hypertension, pregnancy and sickle cell disease. He noted the qualifications are not limited to these conditions.

People with special needs are also eligible, McMaster said, if those disabilities put the individual at higher risk for COVID-19.

Essential workers include all educators in the state, as well as people who work in child care. People who work in law enforcement, manufacturing, hospitality, transportation, service, agribusiness, or local and state government are among the other front-line employees who will be eligible in the coming week. In a broad definition, officials said front-line workers include anyone who has to be in person for their job and can't socially distance, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

As a bottom line, if your job requires you to work in person, and you can't stay at least 6 feet away from others while at work, then you qualify. 

How do I find an appointment?

Though the announcement came the morning of March 2, those newly eligible are advised to wait until March 8 before scheduling an appointment. DHEC hopes the announcement encourages people who were already eligible but haven't received a shot to sign up before they must compete with more than 2 million additional South Carolinians.

If you have internet access, the most reliable method is to visit DHEC's vaccine appointment website, vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov. Sites that have appointments available are shown in green.

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If you do not have internet or need help, the public health agency has a call center open to field questions at 866-365-8110. The call center is open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., and workers at the center are able to make a vaccine appointment for people who call in. 

Officials with DHEC have noted that demand is still higher than the amount of vaccine supply coming into the state. According to DHEC information, about 521,000 people are scheduled for an appointment. People should not expect to get on a provider's calendar right away.

Why did it take South Carolina until now to move to the next phase?

South Carolina's health officials have said they are taking the needed time to ensure people most vulnerable to COVID-19 have access to the vaccine first. Exacerbating the state's pace of vaccination is the fact that South Carolina's population skews older, compared with the rest of the country. 

Nick Davidson, senior deputy of public health at DHEC, said last week that states' vaccine categories include different groups, and some states' first categories were larger than others. A quarter of South Carolina's population is eligible in the first phase of the vaccine's rollout. 

"We will continue to focus on those who are most at risk," Davidson said. "We want to prevent illness and death in our state."

Who has the most vaccine to give?

The amount of vaccine a provider has available to give to people changes daily.

Judging by information DHEC shares each day, thousands of doses of the Moderna vaccine are still available at local retail pharmacies across the state. Those chains giving vaccines include Publix, Ingles, Kroger, Harris Teeter, Walmart, Costco, Walgreens and CVS. 

How quickly is South Carolina moving to administer vaccines? 

All signs point to South Carolina being able to pick up its pace of vaccination. 

According to DHEC, the state's health care providers gave out about 182,000 shots the week of Feb. 22. And starting this week, the newly authorized vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will begin arriving in South Carolina. 

"We're seeing the number of vaccines rise a little faster than we expected," said Dr. Edward Simmer, DHEC's director. 

Even so, South Carolina ranks toward the bottom of states in the number of vaccines given to its residents, adjusted for the size of its population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

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