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Still in Phase 1B, SC health official says demand for vaccine appointments may be dropping

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Fetter Health Care (copy)

Anthony Poole, chief clinical officer with Fetter Health Care, gives a Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to a man at the Arthur Christopher Recreation Center on Fishburne Street on March 24, 2021. Fetter Health and the Charleston Recreation Department teamed up for the pop-up event. Brad Nettles/Staff

It appears the demand for COVID-19 vaccine appointments in South Carolina may be slightly waning, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

An agency official said that's to be expected; in fact, the same trend was observed toward the end of Phase 1A.

No decision has been made about opening vaccine eligibility to Phase 1C, but Nick Davidson, DHEC's senior deputy for public health, said it's something they'll be tracking closely in the coming days. 

With supply catching up to demand, available shots are getting easier to find, he said, noting the state will collectively receive nearly 25,000 more first-doses in next week's shipments compared to a month ago. 

Several states have already opened eligibility to all residents 16 and up. Georgia will do so March 25. 

South Carolina isn't expected to move to Phase 1C until April 12, which would add to the list anyone 45 to 54 years old who's not already eligible due to their job, health or disability.

Eligibility doesn't expand to everyone else until May 3, according to DHEC's posted timeline. But that could change if available appointments around the state continue to increase. 

"Then we will potentially do something similar to what a few other states have begun to do," Davidson said. "We're going to first base it on how difficult it is for people to get the vaccine."

Meanwhile, South Carolina ranks 28th in the country in terms of new COVID-19 cases per capita and 46th for COVID-19 related deaths, according to a new White House reported published this week. 

Nearly every county in the state is still considered "high transmission." 

Statewide numbers

New cases reported: 436 confirmed, 398 probable.

Total cases in S.C.: 460,736 confirmed, 83,189 probable.

Percent positive: 4.7 percent.

New deaths reported: 23 confirmed, 6 probable.

Total deaths in S.C.: 7,992 confirmed, 1,063 probable.

Percent of ICU beds filled: 68.2 percent.

How does S.C. rank in vaccines administered per 100,000 people? 

43rd as of March 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Hardest-hit areas 

In the total number of newly confirmed cases, Greenville County (74), Horry County (47) and Berkeley County (38) saw the highest totals. 

What about the tri-county?

Charleston County had 36 new confirmed cases on March 24, while Berkeley had 38 and Dorchester had 16.

Deaths

Among the new probable and confirmed deaths that were reported, one was a young adult (age 18-34), five were people age 35 to 64, and 23 were patients age 65 and older. 

Hospitalizations

Of the 547 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of March 24, 1,761 were in the ICU and 56 were on ventilators.

Nursing homes

There have been 19,585 confirmed coronavirus cases in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities: 12,139 residents and 7,446 staff workers, according to DHEC data. That's an increase in cases of less than 1 percent in a week.

So far, 1,900 residents have died from the virus, a mortality rate of 16 percent. Twenty-nine workers also have died. Together, they account for 24 percent of deaths in the state, the data from March 24 shows.

Of the 688 facilities DHEC monitored, the virus has been found in 507. There are active outbreaks at 92 of them, a 40 percent drop since the beginning of March.

Some type of visitation — indoor, outdoor or both — is allowed at 624 facilities; 47 do not allow it; 17 did not report.

What do experts say?

Davidson, with DHEC, said providers with leftover vaccine doses at the end of the day should make an attempt to get the shots into the arms of people eligible in Phase 1B.

"First and foremost, we want the vaccine used," he said. "We don’t want any wasted." 

He said several providers, including local pharmacies and urgent care centers, are using waitlists to circle back to adults who may not have been successful in making an appointment but who have expressed an interest in getting a vaccine. Ultimately, vaccinating someone on a waitlist who is not strictly eligible under Phase 1B is "better than a wasted dose," Davidson said. 

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