SC health officials creating new statewide appointment system for COVID-19 vaccines

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COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — State lawmakers frustrated with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in South Carolina questioned DHEC officials for hours Thursday.

A newly formed House Ad-Hoc committee held their first meeting with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA), and South Carolina Medical Association (SCMA).

They talked about things like logistics and any policy challenges needed to make distribution of the vaccine smoother.

According to DHEC Acting Director Marshall Taylor, South Carolina is now receiving about 63,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines a week from the federal government.

“Until the amount of vaccine coming into the state ramps up significantly, it’s going to be a slow process,” Taylor told lawmakers on the committee.

As of Thursday, South Carolina has received a total of 424,950 COVID-19 vaccine doses and administered 211,789 of those doses.

Taylor told lawmakers he does not expect the number of doses in the weekly shipments to increase any time soon.

He said everyone is working hard to get the doses the state has received into the arms of South Carolinians.

According to Taylor, they have had to work through issues with the federal Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). This is a clinical system used to track vaccine administrations.

DHEC said some of the issues providers have experienced include glitches with the system that caused spontaneous appointment cancellations, a requirement for patients to have an email address, and the inability to distinguish between a first and second dose appointments.

Taylor said, “It doesn’t distinguish between first and second dose appointments and as everyone knows appointments are booked up.”

He told lawmakers they are working on a solution, a new a statewide appointment system. He believes this will make it easier to schedule an appointment, especially for older South Carolinians.

According to Taylor, the new system will be a ‘one-stop shop’ and will immediately schedule a second dose appointment. Taylor said this will help with inventory control at hospitals.

“In a perfect world, people will get their first dose at the same provider and second dose at the same provider. When the provider orders, they’ll order the first dose and they have the second dose ready for that same person,” he said.

Taylor said they will still have to use VAMS to order the vaccines and report administration, but with the new system they’ll be able to integrate the statewide immunization program, called SIMON, that providers in South Carolina are familiar with.

“Had we had that tool to start with, we would have never used VAMS,” Taylor told the committee.

Taylor said the new system should be up soon and they will have a new call center in the coming days manned by hundreds of people that will help schedule appointments.

During the meeting, lawmakers also wanted to find out what they could do to help state health officials.

DHEC said they’ll need financial help. According to officials, they’ll be receiving $46 million from the federal government over the next four years to help with vaccine rollout. DHEC’s CFO called that ‘insufficient’. They asked lawmakers for an additional $63 million in 2021.

They also recommended passing a joint resolution that would increase the pool of South Carolinians who can administer vaccines temporarily.

The committee said they plan on meeting with state health officials again.

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