Editor's note: The following is an op-ed by Bruce Bailey, the president and CEO of Tidelands Health.
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Many seniors in our community are frustrated by delays in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
So are we.
No one is more motivated than our health care providers at Tidelands Health to administer the lifesaving vaccine to as many people as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible. We know widespread vaccination is the best way to protect against this highly contagious virus and reduce the burden on our community’s strained health care resources.
To expedite vaccinations, we have set up dedicated regional vaccination sites conveniently located in Murrells Inlet and Georgetown and hired dozens of temporary workers. We have developed processes that enable us to vaccinate 5,000 people or more every week.
But Tidelands Health — like other health systems across our region and nation — is not receiving enough vaccine supply to meet demand.
While our health system requested several thousand first doses of vaccine each of the past two weeks, we received only 975 first doses each week. That’s a fraction of what our vaccination sites are capable of administering.
The result? Nearly 20,000 individuals 70 and older remain on a wait list to receive the vaccine from Tidelands Health. Many of them signed up Jan. 13 — the first day they became eligible per the state’s timeline for distribution. The wait has become exasperating.
After nearly a year of being isolated for their own protection, these high-risk seniors long to get the vaccine so they can again see their grandchildren in person, visit with friends or simply eat a meal in a restaurant. The vaccine will help them regain their lives.
Our team wants to give that to them. We share their frustration.
At the current pace of vaccine supply, it will take many weeks to administer shots to all those already on our wait list. If hiring more clinicians or expanding clinic hours would help individuals get the vaccine more quickly, we would take those steps immediately. But the reality is that wouldn’t make a difference. It all comes down to the amount of vaccine we receive each week from the government.
As of Feb. 10, Tidelands Health has administered more than 16,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including nearly 11,000 doses to seniors ages 70 and older and more than 5,000 doses to health care workers, first responders and others in the region eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 1a.
Like you, we want to see those numbers grow rapidly. We are hopeful that vaccine supply will increase, especially if additional vaccines gain emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
If you are eligible in Phase 1a and signed up to request a COVID-19 vaccine from Tidelands Health by Feb. 7, your place in line is secure. We are contacting people in the order requests were received and as vaccine supply allows.
Individuals in Phase 1a – including those ages 65 and older – who want to receive the vaccine from Tidelands Health and haven’t yet signed up can complete a brief form at tidelandshealth.org/vaccine or by calling 1-866-TIDELANDS to be notified when we are again accepting vaccine requests.
To help you get the vaccine as quickly as possible, we also encourage you to identify additional vaccine providers in South Carolina by visiting scdhec.gov.
Again, no one is more motivated to administer the vaccine than our health care professionals who have been on the front lines of this pandemic for nearly a year. We remain committed to serving our community, as we have for more than 70 years, as your partner in health.
Bruce Bailey is president and CEO of Tidelands Health. For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, go to tidelandshealth.org, or call 1-866-TIDELANDS.